Most of us think of our apartment as a place of comfort and safety. However, some people find that they can also make them sick.
According to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings have poor indoor air quality.
This can result in a condition known as sick building syndrome (SBS).
Can Your Apartment Make You Sick?
Have you heard of the Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick building syndrome (SBS) refers to a condition caused by living in an apartment or other enclosed space. The illness results from the poor quality of air inside the space.
SBS affects people differently. People who have allergies to airborne pollutants are more likely to suffer from SBS due to poor air quality in the apartment building.
Moreover, people who have asthma are at increased risk of suffering due to the poor quality of air.
Some people might experience fewer symptoms than others. Others might experience symptoms after living in the apartment for a long time due to repeated exposure.
The term SBS applies when the trigger of the illness cannot be identified.
Possible Reasons for Your Apartment Making you Sick
There are different reasons for getting sick in an apartment, discussed below:
Presence of Asbestos
You may be exposed to asbestos if you live in an apartment that was built between 1920 and 1978. The building material was commonly used as insulation in buildings.
The naturally occurring fiber was popular in the construction of commercial and residential buildings due to its impressive insulation properties.
But studies found that long term exposure to asbestos fibers results in bronchial and cardiovascular issues.
The fibers stick to the linings inside the lungs and heart when inhaled. Continuous exposure to the fiber can lead to pleural mesothelioma that is a form of lung cancer.
Some of the symptoms of asbestos exposure include difficulty breathing and swallowing, back and chest pain, continuous coughing, and fluid buildup around the lungs.
Asbestos building material should be handled with great care. Many apartment owners and tenants don’t know about the presence of asbestos building material.
They are commonly found in ceilings, cement sheets, tiles, floors, and beneath heaters. If you have detected a damaged asbestos material, you should bring it to the attention of the landlord to know how to proceed with the removal of the material.
You can reach the US CPSC by calling (800) 638-CPSC, or visit the EPA website for more information about the asbestos removal process in the apartment.
Mold Formation in your Apartment
Moreover, water-damaged areas in the kitchen and bathroom are also prone to mold formation.
Mold is a part of the fungi family that can be found both inside and outside the apartment. It can grow behind the apartment walls without the knowledge of the occupants. Tiny mold spores can become airborne that you can inhale.
Exposure to mold spores can trigger allergies and cause breathing problems. You may experience different symptoms such as runny nose, skin or eye irritation, and wheezing.
People who suffer from asthma can experience more sensitivity to mold formation in the apartment.
Moreover, people with a weak immune system and those undergoing chemotherapy are highly likely to get a lung infection due to mold exposure.
Presence of Dust Mites
Dust mites can also make you sick in the apartment. They are not visible to the eye as they are less than half a millimeter in size.
These tiny creatures can be found almost anywhere inside the house with a lot of dust.
They are more commonly found in the carpet, furniture, toys, and bedding. Studies have found that exposure to mold formation can lead to a weakened immune system.
Dust contains dead skin cells that are the favorite food of the dust mites. One dust mite known as Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus is common in buildings located in coastal areas.
This particular type of dust mite can trigger respiratory and dermatological problems such as skin rashes, chest tightening, breathlessness, coughing, and wheezing.
Apart from dust mites, dust may also contain environmental pollutants. They may have potentially toxic compounds that may have an adverse health reaction.
One recent study had also found a link between the presence of dust and weight gain. The dust from herbicides and pesticides contain harmful compounds that may get inside the apartment, wreaking havoc on the health.
Apartment built before 1978 may also have lead paint.
The paints containing lead are harmful that can cause a number of ailments such as memory loss, reproductive problems, digestion issues, hearing problems, joint pains, and high blood pressure.
Young people are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning.
Studies have found that about 900,000 American children suffer from lead poisoning each year. Pregnant and elderly individuals can also suffer from complications due to exposure to lead particles.
In case the lead paint is painted over, lead paint won’t likely pose a problem. But if the paint has been disturbed by scraping or sanding, it can result in lead exposure. Lead can enter the bloodstream by inhaling lead particles in the dust.
If you suspect that the illness is due to exposure to lead particles in paint, you should consider lead paint testing.
The best resource for lead paint testing is National Lead Information that you can contact by calling (800) 424-LEAD. EPA website also contains a lot of information about the risk of lead paint.
Negative Room Pressure
Negative room pressure is an isolation technique that is normally used in hospitals. It involves generating negative pressure using a device that allows air to flow inside the isolation room but prevent escaping of the room.
While negative room pressure is suitable for isolating ill people, it is dangerous in an apartment. However, many apartments today are completely sealed without proper ventilation.
This is more common in offices where it is wrongly believed to save energy costs.
Remember that there must be a balance between outdoor air entering the room and the indoor air leaving the building. Lack of proper airflow results in the buildup of harmful compounds that make people sick.
Modern furniture and synthetic building materials have toxic chemicals. The buildup of these chemicals degrades the air quality resulting in different ailments.
HVAC vents also harbor a lot of dirt, dust, and dander. These can sneak inside the apartment rooms when you turn on the air conditioner or heater.
The problem is caused when the filters of the HVAC device is not replaced regularly.
You should contact the landlord to find out how regularly the filters are being changed of the centralized heating cooling equipment.
How to Avoid Getting Sick in an Apartment?
You can prevent the health ailments described above by keeping the place clean of dust mites and other pollutants.
Here are some tips that can help improve air quality inside the apartment.
Cleaning the Bedding
Make sure that the bedding, drapes, and stuffed toys are washed at least once a year in warm water.
Consider using synthetic pillows instead of one containing features as they are known to harbor dust mites.
Cleaning the Filters
Clean the filter every time you vacuum the place.
Also, you should ensure that the HVAC unit filter is replaced regularly to prevent the spread of dust mites and other airborne pollutants.
Natural ventilation is also important to ensure positive airflow. You should keep the doors and windows open whenever possible.
If there is noise pollution outside, consider investing in a quality ventilator that will ensure proper airflow. Fan vents are also recommended that can pull air outside when cooking and bathing.
Ensuring Proper Humidity Levels
Proper humidity levels inside the apartment can prevent mold growth.
You should also turn on the exhaust fans and open windows when doing laundry or showering. Repairing leaks in the kitchen and bathroom is important to prevent mold growth.
Placing Indoor Plants
Studies have found that houseplants can absorb dangerous toxins in the air. NASA engineers found that interior landscape plants reduce indoor pollution.
The good thing about plants is that they don’t need any power to improve air quality.
Apart from improving air quality, placing plants can also improve the room, enhance memory and concentration, and reduce stress.
They are therapeutic, cost-effective, and also work wonders in improving the indoor air quality.
You should consider placing two to three plants in 10-inch pots every 100 square feet. The best practice is to include a variety of plants in the rooms.
The Bottom Line
You need to identify the cause of the illness in the apartment. Sometimes diagnosing the problem can be difficult as the illnesses due to sick building syndrome mimic that of the common cold.
The key to knowing whether the illness is caused due to a trigger in the apartment is to leave the place for some time to see if the symptoms improve.
If you notice recurring symptoms that improve when you leave the building, the apartment building is to be blamed. You should consider all the probable causes of the illnesses and take appropriate actions.
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