Should You Be Concerned

The Big Asthma Lie

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Most people spend at least half of their lives inside their homes. The air inside can be more harmful to your family's health than the air outdoors. Is the air in your home safe to breathe?

It is not always easy to tell if your home has poor air quality. You may notice bad smells or see smoke, but you cannot see or smell other dangers, like carbon monoxide or radon. This chapter and those on asthma and allergies, mold, and carbon monoxide will help you ask the right questions to find out if the air inside your home is healthy and safe. They will also give you ideas about how to fix any problems you might find.

Asthma and Allergies

If someone in your home has health problems or is ill, polluted indoor air can make them feel worse. For example, asthma is a lung disease that affects a growing number of children. Indoor air pollution can make it worse. Insects and other pests can also be a real problem for people with asthma or allergies. For example, cockroach and dust mite droppings cause asthma attacks in some people. Pesticides can help fight these pests but they can be dangerous. See page 44 for more information about using bug spray and other pesticides safely. See page 11 to find out about making your home healthier for people with asthma or allergies.


Mold grows in wet or damp places. It often smells musty. Many people are allergic to mold. Some kinds of mold are toxic, and coming into contact with large amounts of mold may cause health problems. Talk to a doctor if you think mold is causing health problems for you or your family. See page 17 to learn more about how to control mold in your home.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that can come from appliances that burn gas, oil, coal, or wood, and are not working as they should. Car exhaust also has carbon monoxide. You cannot see, taste or smell carbon monoxide. See page 23 for more information on how to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Other Indoor Air Problems

Radon is another gas. It can get into some homes from the ground below them. You cannot see, taste, or smell radon. Radon is found all over the United States. Radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. If you smoke and your home has high levels of radon, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

The air in your home can be unhealthy if it has too many pollutants in it. To cut down on indoor air pollution, learn where it comes from. Take good care of your home to keep it healthy!

Children can spend up to 90% of their time indoors. For their size, children breathe up to twice as much air as adults. That means children are at greater risk for health problems that come from indoor air pollution.

Sometimes indoor air pollution comes from what people do in their home.

• Tobacco smoking causes cancer and other major health problems. It's unsafe for children to be around smokers. Second-hand or environmental tobacco smoke can raise children's risk of ear infections and breathing problems. It can trigger asthma attacks, too.

• Many families have pets. However, furry pets cause problems for some people. Pets can make asthma and allergies act up, especially if you keep them in sleeping areas.

• Hobbies and home projects sometimes involve sanding, painting, welding, or using solvent chemicals, like varnish or paint strippers. (A solvent is a chemical that can dissolve something else. Solvents are usually liquid.) Home projects can pollute the air with dust or harmful chemicals.

Sometimes indoor air pollution comes from what people have in their homes.

• Some household products, especially those with solvents, can pollute the air if you don't use them in the right way. (See page 38 for more information about household products.)

• New furniture, carpets, and building products may give off chemicals that were used in their making. Some of these chemicals can harm people, especially children.

• If your home was built before 1978, the paint may have lead in it. Lead is very dangerous for young children. See page 29 to learn about protecting your children from lead poisoning.

There are simple, but important steps you can take to find out what is causing poor air quality. The questions on the next page can help you find problems around your home. Page 9 will give you ideas of what to do. Look at the chapters on asthma and allergies, mold, and carbon monoxide to learn more about indoor air problems. Remember, making your home a safer, healthier place to live may mean taking several steps.

Combustion appliances are one possible source of air pollution.

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