In the last ten years or so, some good things have happened. Technology has made unprecedented leaps in the area of electronic devices, social networking and making the world a smaller and easier place to communicate.
Also, collective attitudes have seemingly shifted and people are showing more concern for their health, which foods they eat, and how they take care of their bodies.
But probably one of the biggest shifts in American society over the last ten years, is people being more conscious of the environment, whether it’s trying to use products that are more sustainable, being sure we’re recycling our cans, bottles and newspapers, or just trying to live a greener lifestyle.
And this greener approach has been carried over to the process of building new homes and remodeling existing ones, so houses and apartments can be more energy-efficient.
But according to Dr. Nathan Rabinovitch, an asthma specialist at National Jewish Health in Denver, homes that are being built to be greener and more energy-efficient also seem to be trapping air pollution indoors, thus causing significant increases in the number of asthma cases in children and adults.
“For every solution, there’s a problem,” said Dr. Rabinovitch.
“Energy efficiency is really, really important, but at the same time, with the homes that we are building today, allergens getting into the house are staying in the house.”
Rabinovitch says things like dust, mold, pet dander and bacteria tend to linger in homes that have been built greener, by being trapped inside carpets, rugs, inside the furniture, and other places in the home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4 percent of children in the United States suffer from asthma and 8.2 percent of adults are plagued with the potentially deadly breathing disorder, and that percentage is increasing steadily.
The CDC also says that by taking medication and avoiding certain triggers including tobacco smoke, chemicals and mold, people can increase the chances of not developing asthma and lowering the risk of worsening their condition if they already have it.
Open the window
Rabinovitch says the best way to eliminate these asthmatic triggers inside the home is through proper ventilation, by cleaning your home regularly through dusting, mopping and vacuuming, using air filters and just opening the windows on a consistent basis.
These type of measures need to be taken more today than ever, says Rabinovitch because older homes were built to provide much better ventilation.
“It used to be when homes were built, a lot of air would come out through the roof and through the windows,” he said. “But now we’ve become so efficient at sealing off those areas that everything is getting trapped inside the house, and that’s making a lot of people sick.”
Rabinovitch also says it’s not only the residents of a house who can be exposed to pollution in the furniture and carpets, visitors to the home can also be exposed and develop asthmatic symptoms.
“The problem is, a lot of the air pollution in our home is actually in the carpet or on the soft furniture, he said. “If someone walks on the carpet or sits on the couch, they end up getting this kind of personal exposure, and with little ventilation in homes today, that pollution has nowhere to go, so it settles into our lungs.”
Other health experts say people should keep a moderate level of humidity throughout their homes, at around 30 percent to 50 percent, which should lower the amount of the moisture, dust mites and mold inside the house or apartment. Experts also say shoes shouldn’t be worn inside the home and should be left by the door, so bacteria aren't tracked indoors.
To determine the level of air quality in the average home, Rabinovitch gave some local school children air monitors which they carried for an extensive period of time.
The monitors were carried inside their homes, in their schools and when they played outdoors, and Rabinovitch said the air quality was worse than he anticipated.
“For many of these kids, the amount of air pollution that they were being exposed to was often higher inside the home than outside the home,” he said.
“Pet dander and cigarette smoke are probably two of the most dangerous triggers there are. I always tell my patients that if there are smokers in the house or pets that are causing problems, those have to be addressed before anything else.”
“Homes were built 50 years ago in a way where there was ventilation, so I don’t think it’s difficult to go back to that. But the question is how do we do that and at the same time keep our energy efficiency? We don’t want to solve one problem and then end up with another,” said Rabinovitch.