Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
With so many people working from home over the past 9 months, it’s possible that your indoor air quality may be impacting your health. If you feel that your health has changed, especially with allergies, congestion, fatigue or brain fog, this may be important to investigate.
Here is a brief overview of things you can address in your home to create a healthier working environment.
DUST & ALLERGENS
The most common reaction people have to indoor air is related to dust, and especially dust blowing around when you turn on the heat in the winter months. Toronto is a particularly dusty city, and even with a well-maintained furnace and vents, any forced-air heating system will still blow around an increased amount of dust in the colder months. Extra dust can also contribute to dust mites in your beds or sofas, which can lead to congestion, allergies and asthma that is worse after sleep.
Both overly dry and overly humid air can cause problems with your respiratory system. Dry air causes nasal stuffiness and sinus irritation, and can lead to nose bleeds. An overly humid or damp environment (for example a basement), can cause mold overgrowth which is a very significant allergen and potential toxin (more below). Finding the right balance is key!
CHEMICALS & OFF-GASSING
Almost all furniture, carpets, cleaners, air fresheners and laundry detergents release chemicals which can impact our health. Some people are more sensitive to these chemicals can develop significant environmental illness. If you don’t feel well in a new home, new office or new car, this may apply to you. In mild cases, it causes fatigue and headaches, and in more severe cases chemical sensitivities can be debilitating.
Indoor mold is recognized more and more as a cause of significant illness, especially in a small percentage of people who develop neurological symptoms related to exposure. If you have had ceiling or bathroom leaks, or floods in your basement, there is a high chance of mold in your home environment and air. For most people, mold allergy causes sneezing, itchy eyes, cough and post-nasal drip – typical allergy symptoms. In some people, due to their genetics, they can develop an odd constellation of symptoms including brain fog, memory problems, headaches, fatigue, muscle cramping, numbness and tingling, eye problems, vertigo, metallic taste, issues with temperature regulation, and night sweats. (Read more here: https://drshawnadarou.com/2019/08/12/is-indoor-mold-making-you-sick/)
VENTILATION / CIRCULATION
Many newer buildings especially tend to have very poor air circulation and ventilation which can make you feel very fatigued if you’re indoors all day. This may be efficient for heating and cooling, but creates a stuffy environment that can be especially prone to issues with off-gassing, and trapping in environmental irritants. It is important to open windows and doors periodically to get some air flow through your home, and have fresh air circulating.
EMF’s are electromagnetic frequencies which come from our exposure to all electric devices, and also cell phone / radio-frequency. The reality is that we are all exposed to these frequencies at increased regularity and intensity than ever before, and like everything else in environmental medicine, some people are more sensitive than others. Some common signs of EMF reactions I have noticed include: fatigue, mood swings, headaches, neurological symptoms – ear ringing, dizziness, headaches, poor concentration and sleep struggles especially. There are a couple of simple things you can do if you suspect this may be affecting you: first purchase or borrow an EMF meter (called a Trifield meter), and take some measurements. One of the simplest things you can to do begin with is turn off your WiFi router overnight – this is a significant high source of EMF’s in your home environment. I wrote an article about EMF’s here: https://drshawnadarou.com/2020/08/11/are-emfs-affecting-your-health/.
Tips and tools to address your indoor air quality:
Clean the ducts and vents if you have forced-air heat from a furnace. This should be done every year. You can also get filters that fit on the vent openings in each room to further reduce the amount of dust blowing around.
Consider an air purifier, especially in the rooms you spend the most time. (Should be a HEPA filter, or one designed specifically for allergies).
Use a cool-mist humidifier if your home is dry, especially while you sleep. Make sure you clean it regularly however, as humidifiers can carry mold and create other issues if they are not maintained well.
Deep clean your carpets if you have signs of allergies, and lots of carpets in your home or bedroom.
Test for mold if you have had any water damage (leaks, floods), or have symptoms that suggest possible mold illness.
Purchase some air-purifying plants – many plants have been shown to reduce environmental chemicals such as formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, trichloroethylene, ammonia, and more. Plants most known for air-purifying include: spider plants, Dracaenas, Golden pothos (devil’s ivy), Chrysanthemums, Bamboo palms, English ivy, and Rubber plants.
Move your WIFI router, at least across the room from where you work, and turn it off overnight. Avoid sitting right next to it at your desk, as this has the strongest signal. If you live in a condo or apartment especially, you may want to purchase an EMF detector (Trifield Meter) to check your living space.
Open the windows regularly to get some air circulating through your home.
Switch over to natural cleaning products, laundry detergents and fabric softeners, and if you are using stronger products at least open the windows until the smell has gone.
Get outside every single day for a walk to breathe in some outdoor air and exercise your lungs. This is even more important when you work from home, and are moving much less through the day.
This was a very short and simplified overview of how indoor air quality could be impacting your health right now. If you need more information and support with how to create a healthier living space, or especially if you are having health issues related to indoor air quality, please ask at your next appointment. We can support your immune system, reduce sinus congestion, test for mold toxins, and find ways to reduce your chemical toxin load for better overall health. In many cases indoor allergens and reactions are as severe or worse than outdoor allergens, but just not recognized. This year of working from home may have made this more clear to you.