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Is Your House Making You Sick?

Do you have a sick house? Lead paint, pesticides, and pollution can contribute to sick house syndrome. Here are 10 things you can do to keep your house, and you, healthy.

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Another, more contemporary, risk of lead poisoning comes from scented candles. According to the Environmental Illness Society of Canada, some candle makers are still using lead cores in their wicks, which can result in lead particles being emitted into the air of a home. This is particularly dangerous for infants, small children, and pregnant women.

  • Combustion gases. These gases include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. They can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, or even death. Don't use unvented combustion appliances (such as portable kerosene heaters) indoors. Use an exhaust hood over a gas stove. Clean and maintain your chimneys and furnace every year, making sure that they are properly vented. And install a carbon monoxide monitor.
  • Water pollution. The U.S. has one of the safest water supplies in the world, but that doesn't mean it's failsafe. To check the water quality in your area, call the EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 246-4791, or visit the web site at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwhealth.html. If you use a private well, test your water every year for nitrates and bacteria. Depending on where you live, you may also want to test for pesticides, organic chemicals, or radon.
  • Household chemicals. Some household products may be dangerous if not used correctly. Choose the least dangerous chemical for the job. Keep household chemicals away from children and pets, and if possible, store them outside the house and away from living spaces.
  • Pesticides. Try to avoid using chemical pesticides when maintaining your gardens, lawns, and trees. You can get advice from www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/lawncare.pdf. Also, store firewood outside and away from the house to avoid insects, keep food in tight containers, and clean up food spills to minimize insects.
  • Allergens. Water-damaged materials frequently grow molds and other organisms that can cause allergies and other illnesses. Visit www.epa/gov/laq/pubs/moldresources.html for more information. To reduce other allergens in the home and fix leaks and moisture problems, don't use a humidifier unless you follow the manufacturer's instructions, keep furry animals out of the house (or at least out of the bedroom), wrap your mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers. You can also check the web site of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology at http://allergy.mcg.edu/patients/index.html for more tips.
  • Food poisoning . Food must be properly prepared and stored to prevent food poisoning. Keep your refrigerator below 40 F. Refrigerate cooked, perishable food as soon as possible. Wash cutting boards with soap and hot water after each use. Don't allow raw meat, poultry, or fish to come into contact with food that will not be well cooked. Don't eat raw or undercooked eggs. You can find more information about food safety at www.extension.lastate.edu/foodsafety/.

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