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Indoor Air Quality and Your Health – Environmentally Acquired Illness

Did you know that the quality of air in your home or work place can affect your health?  Most people have heard of sick building syndrome, but what makes a sick building? There are a variety of factors involved in sick buildings. Certain building materials, paints and glues contain volatile organic chemicals that off gas (breathe out) fumes that can impact our health. In office buildings especially, all too often in order to reduce overhead costs, air is recycled through ventilation systems and these systems may not be properly maintained increasing a burden of dust, molds, bacteria and other chemicals in their air.   Many cleaning products or air fresheners contain chemicals that can impact our health as well.

Older homes are less risk for sick building syndrome because their insulation is poor compared to newer energy efficient buildings. But older buildings can have other hazards such as lead paint, asbestos, rodent infestation and water damage. Leaks in plumbing or the roof or improperly sealed foundations can lead to mold contamination. This can be hidden behind a wall or in the subflooring, making it difficult to detect. A person may notice that they feel ill when they are at home and better when they are away on vacation.

Not all molds we are exposed to are toxic. The Pacific Northwest is filled with mold at this time of year. Most of it is not problematic unless someone is allergic to molds, in which case they may have increased allergy symptoms.

But there are some molds such as stachybotrys (black mold) from water damage in buildings can have serious health effects. These are not due to an allergic reaction but rather to toxins that these molds produce. Symptoms can range from severe fatigue, brain fog, migraines, neurological symptoms and immune dysregulation from chronic exposure. And getting rid of the mold won’t eliminate the problem unless the toxins are properly remediated from the furniture, books, clothing, bedding, carpets and the rest of the building.

Recovering from environmentally acquired illness often takes time and is a financial drain on people. The most important thing is to get away from the source of exposure as best as you can. If you can’t move or leave your job, then you may want to invest in an air purifier. Saunas, Epsom salt baths, and exercise to induce sweating help too.


By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc

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