Breathing Lessons: How to Make Your Home a Clean-Air Haven
Did you know that you breathe in and out about 23,000 times a day? Probably
not, as most of us rarely think about the mysterious inner workings of our
bodies. (Well, until something goes wrong, that is!) But when you do
consider the fact that your respiratory system brings you, quite literally,
the breath of life, you can see why you must pay special attention to the
fuel that amazing system runs on. How clean is the air you breathe, anyway?
That's the question cardiac surgeon B. P. Loughridge – author of Every
Breath You Take: A Doctor's Guide to Reducing Indoor Air Pollution (Health
Design, Inc., 2002) – wants you to ask yourself.
“I've devoted my career to urging people to live a healthy lifestyle,” he
says. “Most people associate this with a nutritious diet, regular exercise
and maybe stress reduction techniques. What they don't think about is the
air they breathe every day. That's understandable. After all, you can't
really see air and, unless you suffer from allergies or asthma, you're not
really motivated to think about it. But the air in your home – no matter how
harmless it seems – could be contaminated with all sorts of bad things that
could affect you and your family down the road.”
The problems Loughridge refers to run the gamut from dust mites,
cockroaches, molds and pollen to animal allergens, lead, radon, and asbestos.
And they have spawned a whole new breed of illness. Research shows that the
majority of environmental illnesses such as asthma, so-called Legionnaire's disease,
multiple chemical sensitivities,
and “humidifier fever” – along with building-related illness and
hypersensitivity pneumonitis – are the direct result of breathing unclean
air in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools. In fact, Loughridge
points out that over the last 30
years a link has actually been made between poor indoor air quality and such
notorious killers as coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular arterial
disease, and lung cancer.
Loughridge says that if you want to get rid of some of the billions of
microscopic creatures that share your living quarters, dusting and vacuuming
won’t do it! (They only move the mites around.) He claims that you’ll never eradicate the mighty mite, merely
make it feel less welcome.
Speaking of much larger critters that may share your living quarters,
Loughridge provides some interesting cockroach facts: For humans, a lethal
dose of radiation is 800 rems or more; for the American cockroach, it's
67,500 rems. Furthermore, a cockroach can survive for a week after you cut
off its head – only the inability to drink water deals it the fatal blow.
It’s this last tidbit – the roach’s need for water – that offers us a clue
as to how to deal with the vile pest. Dry it out! Empty pet water dishes at
night, seal all pipes and fix any leaky appliances.
What you think of as hay fever
– recurrent sinusitis, headaches with no
apparent cause, asthma – could actually be
says Loughridge. But there are ways to
reduce the mold in homes, schools, and office buildings. Here's one: Take a
moment to examine your heating and air-conditioning ducts. Do you detect a
musty odor? Is there any indication that moisture is present in or around
the ducts or the unit? Think about it: Do you remember the last time your
changed the air filters? If these filters become wet, mold and mildew can
begin sprouting within three hours, spewing mold spores everywhere the
ventilation system reaches.
Pets can also cause health problems for you or a family member, and you might have to
banish one from the house. You could be allergic to a cat or dog, or, short of a full-blown allergy, you could be irritated by the dust and fur floating around in the air.
Here are some steps to take to clean up the air in your home:
Create pet-free zones in the house; at the very least, bedrooms should
remain pet free. Also, keep a high-efficiency multi-level filtration air
cleaner in the bedroom.
Bathe your pet and wash its bedding and toys on a regular basis. Studies
show that weekly bathing can reduce the level of allergens produced by pets
as much as 85 percent.
Air out rooms regularly, vacuum and mop floors, and wipe down walls to reduce
the levels of pet and other allergens. Change air-conditioner and furnace filters
safe cleaning products. Avoid using
Remove your shoes and clothing
immediately upon arriving at home in order to leave pollen and other
outdoor allergens outside.
Hair is a magnet for pollen. If you or anyone in
your family has pollen allergies, thoroughly wash your or their hair, especially before bedtime,
to avoid spreading microscopic pollen spores to your bedsheets and pillows.
Invest in a portable, high-efficiency, multi-level filtration air cleaner, especially for use
in your bedroom.
If you suspect you have lead
paint in your older home, clean up all paint chips and thoroughly clean
floors, windows, and other surfaces. Hire a qualified lead abatement
contractor to remove the lead.
Have your home tested for
radon by a
For people with severe health problems,
Loughridge recommends replacing down pillows and wool blankets with
carpeting with wooden, tile, or vinyl flooring, being careful to
avoid formaldehyde adhesives and allowing time for the new installation
Keep your central air conditioning running or use
Make sure there is sufficient ventilation in
bathrooms, kitchen, and other sources of moisture like dehumidifiers and
humidifiers. Do not allow mold to grow.
Inspect all furnaces and combustible heaters each year to
ensure that they are functioning properly and not emitting carbon monoxide.
Never idle a car in your garage (even if the door is kept open). Install a
carbon monoxide detector in your home.
House plants can help filter the air inside any
“It simply isn't that difficult to dramatically improve the air you breathe
every day,” Dr. Loughridge asserts. “And the payoff can be huge. By taking a
few easy steps and investing in a few affordable products, you can breathe
easier today and ensure a healthier, happier tomorrow for you and your
“Paying attention to your air quality may not be as ‘sexy’ a lifestyle
change as learning to cook low-fat gourmet meals or taking regular nature
hikes, but it’s just as important,” he adds. “And when you consider those
23,000 breaths you take each day, well, you can see how important the air
you breathe actually is. So why not pay attention to it, starting with your
Bill P. Loughridge, MD, has served a
distinguished career in cardiovascular surgery. Through the years, Dr.
Loughridge has helped to develop new treatment techniques, including one to
deliver chemotherapeutic agents to patients with metastatic cancer to the
liver without making them toxic, for which he received a Fullbright
Scholarship. He is a clinical associate professor
of surgery at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. Every Breath
You Take was his second book. Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of
Natural Life Magazine and the author of
Natural Life Magazine's Green and Healthy Homes,
which contains more tips for keeping your home healthy.