We're all aware of outdoor pollution, but what about the things in your home? We reveal seven everyday indoor health hazards – and what you can do about them.
1. Unseen patches of mould
Whether it's a cupboard under the boiler, the floorboards around your bath, or a corner of the attic, hidden leaks in your home can cause patches of unseen mould. This is a particular problem for those who are prone to asthma or allergies, as mould can cause a range of symptoms, including nausea, headaches, nasal congestion and serious respiratory problems.
Mould tends to accumulate in damp areas, especially in rooms with poor ventilation. Check pipes, cupboards, cellars and loft-spaces to ensure that they are all dry. If you discover any leaks, clean and dry the area and contact a plumber or other professional. Scrub any mould with detergent and increase air flow in the room as much as possible. If the air is particularly damp, consider buying a de-humidifier.
2. Your vacuum cleaner
If you have pets or suffer from dust allergies, it's worth investing in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air) – and remember to clean it regularly.
Researchers in Australia tested 21 different vacuum cleaners and found that they all released some dust, bacteria, and allergies into the air. Unsurprisingly, older cleaners and those that didn't have a HEPA filter spewed out the most dust and dirt.
If you live near a busy road, an airport or factory, you may want to invest in an indoor air purifier to filter out chemical pollutants.
3. Household cleaning products
Everyday cleaning products can contain potentially harmful chemicals, some of which have even been linked to cancer. Harsh chemical cleaners can cause eye irritation, headaches, and breathing problems. If you do use them, make sure to always wear gloves, open a window and use only the amount recommended. Better yet, use natural ingredients like lemon, cooking oil, vinegar, and baking soda to get the job done.
Spray cleaners that contain chemicals can also irritate the throat and lungs when they evaporate into the air. Either avoid using spray cleaners or buy those that are labelled allergy-friendly.
4. Bedtime troubles
The average bed is home to up to 1.5 million house dust mites. The bugs, which are less than a millimetre long, feed on scales of human skin and produce allergens which are easily inhaled during sleep, potentially triggering asthma and other allergies.
Luckily there is something you can do – don't make your bed in the morning. Yes, really. If you pull back the covers and air your bed, it will help to dry out the moisture which the dust mites need to thrive.
Be sure to wash your bedding at least once a week on a 60-degree wash. If you want to prevent dust mites getting through, invest in anti-allergy covers for your mattress and pillows.
5. Wet laundry
Drying your washing indoors can raise the moisture levels of a room by as much as 30 per cent, according to a study from the University of Manchester. Damp and warm air is the perfect breeding conditions for mould spores, which can cause breathing problems and potentially trigger lung infections. If you can't dry your washing outside, use a tumble drier with good ventilation. If that's not an option, dry your laundry in a well-ventilated area away from bedrooms and living areas.
6. Gas cookers
Gas cookers can emit pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, all of which may cause respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide levels in the kitchen of an urban flat with a gas stove can be three times higher than those outside on the street, according to research from the University of Sheffield. If you're concerned, open the kitchen windows when cooking and use the extractor fan.
7. Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste and can cause severe heart problems and brain damage. Every year more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK, which leads to around 50 deaths, according to the NHS.
A tension-type headache is the most common symptom of mild carbon monoxide poisoning. Other symptoms include dizziness, nausea, tiredness, confusion, stomach pain, and shortness of breath.
Exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can be similar to those of food poisoning and flu (but without the high temperature). See your GP if you are short of breath and have mild nausea and headaches when you are indoors.
Just like you have a smoke detector, it's a wise to invest in a carbon monoxide alarm.