Is Your Home Making You Sick?

This article written by Dr. Johnson was originally published in Katy Trail Weekly.

Now that we are all stuck inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how are you feeling physically? Do you find that you are more fatigued, having nasal congestion, difficulty concentrating, allergies feeling worse than normal, an unsteady mental state, bowel changes or unusual shortness of breath?

Certainly, we are all experiencing the anxiety of the unknown, concern for those sick and worry for our extended families during this time. It is especially overwhelming with children, family members and pets under our feet 24/7. However, your health can also be affected by odors and other living contaminants that may inhabit your living space, such as a natural gas leak, dust mites and mold.

I have never experienced a time where we were basically confined to our homes for an extended period. We need to ensure that staying inside is not going to harm us as a potentially toxic environment.

Do you feel better when taking a walk and getting out of your home? If yes, this is a first clue that there may be something in your home that is adversely affecting you. Not everyone may experience the same symptoms or feel anything at all, because individuals have different tolerances and immune symptoms, even in the same family. Everyone’s genetics are different, except in identical twins. The most allergic or sensitive person in a home generally notices the problem first. The canary?

Is there something in your home harming you? Some things to think about that could potentially harm you while you are staying inside in quarantine:

Natural gas leaks. These have that putrid odor of mercaptans-sulfur that is mixed in the natural gas to help detect leaks.

Dust mites. These microscopic insects live off your skin flakes and are generally most concentrated in the bedroom in sheets, pillows and pillowcases.

Mold. Different types of molds hide in the damp areas of your home. They have to have dampness to grow and produce that musty damp smell along with odorless toxins called mycotoxins that affect an individual’s nervous system. Mold can also affect the brain and the extended peripheral nerves to the extremities, intestinal tract and lungs, resulting in the multisystem effects a person may experience upon exposure.

Mold is most likely one of the biggest issues you may encounter, because a lot of people may have it in their home and not realize it. The National Institute of Health published a book titled Damp Indoor Environments, which describes in detail the adverse health effects of mold and mycotoxins. Excessive exposure may cause or exacerbate allergies, cause a mold infection in the sinuses or lungs, or the mycotoxins are inhaled and absorbed and distributed by the blood throughout the body causing neurological symptoms.

Molds grow in damp and dark spaces and are commonly seen as a result of roof leaks, broken pipes, standing water under the house, overflowing bathtubs or toilets, faulty shower pans or shower tile and leaks under the sink.

All these issues contribute to the dampness and potential mold growth frequently resulting in adverse health effects. Many times, the mold isn’t visible as it is in the wall cavities due to water seeping down from a roof leak, or wicking up the wall from the floor.

To determine if your home is having these issues, a Texas state certified Indoor Air Quality inspector is the best person to use to confirm if there is a problem, as they can measure dampness, are trained to visually inspect and do mold spore counts and mycotoxin counts, as well as volatile organic compound analysis of the air inside your wall cavities or other parts of the home.

In my 40 years working as a physician, I have seen all manner of environmental factors that affect patient’s health, oftentimes without their knowledge. Sometimes, the last place we suspect — our homes — may be the culprit when it comes to unexplainable symptoms. However, there is hope. When we ask the right questions and explore all factors that can affect a patient’s health, including their environment, I have seen time and time again that people’s quality of life changed for the better with a specific diagnosis and appropriate treatment.