Home is often considered one of our safest havens. But it's just as easy for your living space to become a health threat. Clutter, creatures, and toxins can cause damage to not only your house, but your body, too. It's easy for these health and safety risks to go unnoticed, so take note of these five common health hazards and ensure your home is as safe as can be — for you and for anyone who enters.
1. Tripping hazards
One in four adults age 65 and older fall each year. And one out of five of these falls causes serious injury, like a broken bone or a head injury. Of course, not all falls are caused by tripping hazards, but many are. It's important to check your home for anything you could easily get tangled up in or trip over, like loose electrical cords, rugs, and even furniture that sticks out. If you do find these tripping hazards, tape down the electrical cords, secure rugs with double-sided tape, and "mark" furniture with something that will stand out, like bright-colored tape or a sign.
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Have a musty smell lingering around your home? Check for mold. It grows in warm, moist, and dark environments, so your basement is most susceptible. Mold can worsen asthma symptoms, allergies, and other respiratory conditions, so if you find mold or suspect you have it in your home, make sure you get rid of it. Throw out any moldy materials like carpets, mattresses, wallboard, ceiling tile, insulation, paper, and cardboard boxes, and clean any moldy surfaces with detergent. If the mold is extensive, you may want to consider hiring a professional mold abatement company.
Was your home built before 1978? If so, you may have lead in your home — and that can pose a serious health hazard. When absorbed, lead can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, and other vital organs. Have your home tested for lead to see if you're at risk. If lead is found, it should be removed. This can be a lot of work and should be done safely, so it's best to hire a professional to handle the removal.
Rodents like mice and rats, and insects like roaches and spiders are just a few pests that commonly invade homes. Their looks alone present a cringy "ick" factor, but the germs, bacteria, and diseases they often carry are even ickier. To prevent pest invasions and exposure to their germs, store all food in airtight containers, make sure your trash can has a tight lid, and fill in cracks and holes in your walls, foundation, and vents. If you suspect you have a pest problem in your home, call an exterminator.
5. Carbon monoxide poisoning
It's easy to forget the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) — you can't see, smell, or sense it. But this toxic gas can cause illness and death. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires.
To protect your home from unsafe CO levels, it's important you have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. You should also install a battery-operated or battery-back-up CO detector in your home. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. You'll want to replace your CO detector every 5 years, too.
If you feel you might have unsafe levels of CO in your home, go outside right away and call the fire department and gas company. If you think you're experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning (nausea, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, sleepiness, and/or weakness) call 911 as soon as you're outside.
If you've recently been hospitalized or are receiving home health care services, you may be eligible for a home safety assessment through Medicare. Call your plan to find out your specific coverage.
Rachel Quetti is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, commercial health care, and consumer engagement. When Rachel isn't trying out new fitness classes, she is cooking up fun, (mostly) healthy recipes in the kitchen. Rachel lives in Watertown, Massachusetts and has a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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