Ghosts and ghouls, monsters and witches—Halloween is the time to celebrate all things that go bump in the night. But what if there's something even scarier living inside your home? Indoor air pollutants can put your health at risk, regardless of the season.
Don't let your house haunt your lungs this Halloween—here are six indoor air pollutants to look out for.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless and tasteless (but dangerous) gas that's produced when fuels such as gasoline, oil, kerosene or natural gas are burned. The most common sources of CO in your home are gas appliances, fireplaces, furnaces or heaters. Breathing in any amount is unsafe but inhaling too much can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or even death.
Some signs that you might have CO in your home include symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion and sometimes even hallucinations.
In fact, carbon monoxide has been found to be the culprit in several "ghost sightings." The first recorded case dates back to 1912, when one family reported hearing voices and footsteps, seeing apparitions, and feeling a "haunting" presence, only to discover the source was a faulty furnace that had been leaking the poisonous gas.
If you or others in your home ever experience ghostly symptoms, you should have your furnace, oven and other gas appliances inspected by a professional. You can also install a CO detector with an audible alarm near sleeping areas, on indoor walls shared with a garage and near any combustion equipment.
Halloween tip: Some costumes and masks may contain latex or other asthma triggers. Be sure to read the label before purchasing items for you or your children.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases that are emitted into the air. Breathing these gases can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, damage the central nervous system as well as other organs. Some VOCs even cause cancer.
These gases are often found indoors in building materials such as paint, varnishes, caulks, sealants, flooring, carpeting and pressed wood products. They can also be present in your home and personal care products like leaners, disinfectants, furniture, cosmetics, air fresheners and candles.
To limit your exposure to these chemicals, try opting for products that indicate "low VOCs" and always make sure the area is well ventilated while using potentially harmful products indoors.
Much like carbon monoxide, radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that poses a big threat to your health. Radon occurs naturally and can't be detected without testing. Levels can build up inside of your home by entering through openings in the foundation and walls. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, killing 21,000 people each year.
Every home—including apartments and other buildings— should be tested for radon. The test is easy, inexpensive and life-saving. You can find out more about testing your home for radon by short-term tests or by an on-going test. A certified radon contractor can evaluate the problem and help you find the right solution.
During the damp, rainy fall months, make sure your home isn't at risk of any leaks and has good ventilation. Mold can exist wherever too much moisture exists, particularly when excess water or high humidity are present.
Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people who have mold allergies. However, even without mold, dampness indoors causes asthma attacks and other upper and lower respiratory problems. Anyone can experience irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs when exposed to airborne mold particles, not just those with lung disease.
If you suspect mold is growing inside of your home there are several steps you can take to fix it, starting with identifying and eliminating the source of the water problem.
Cockroaches and pests
Cockroaches aren't just creepy and unsightly—they also carry allergens and put those with lung disease at risk.
Cockroaches don't even need to be present for their allergens to exist in your home. Much like dust mite allergens, cockroach allergens do not remain airborne for long, but stick to heavier particles that quickly settle. Activities like vacuuming may stir up allergens that have settled in dust or fabrics.
Not only do cockroach allergens trigger asthma and allergies, researchers are exploring evidence that early exposure to cockroach allergen can cause asthma to develop in children.
The best way to make sure your house is pest-free is to keep your home clean, reduce humidity, and to remove old carpeting and furniture.
Once widely used in building supplies and other consumer products, research now shows asbestos can cause major health issues, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Exposure to high levels of airborne asbestos over long periods can also create non-cancerous problems in the lungs and chest. It can also scar tissue in the lungs, in a condition called asbestosis. Fortunately, most people who are only exposed to moderate levels of asbestos are not likely to develop these more serious diseases.
If you suspect there is asbestos in your home, leave the material alone, if possible. Exposure to asbestos-containing materials is minimal if they are not disturbed. Fibers are unlikely to become airborne unless materials are cut, ripped or sanded. If you need to remodel, remove or clean up asbestos, be sure to hire trained professionals.