Has Your Home Compromised Your Immunity?
- 6 mins read
- Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
Has your home compromised your immunity?
Our health depends not only on personal hygiene but also on the hygiene of our homes. We spend much of our daily time in our homes, and our physical and mental development occurs there. Every family and individual has a fundamental right to a decent home and a suitable living environment. Housing is an essential prerequisite for health. In developing countries, scarcity of affordable, healthful housing or lack of easy access to mortgage or rent for houses is beyond the reach of citizens.
- Availability of a dry floor without the risk of infiltration by scorpions or snakes.
- Provision of a lockable door on a house that protects from the risk of theft or an attack
- Clean drinking water to prepare food
- Sanitation and basic hygiene
- A chimney to prevent deadly smoke and fumes.
All these must be essentials of a housing system and not to be considered a luxury.
Even in prosperous countries, inadequate housing amenities have a severe impact on the health of residents. Their children are more likely to perform poorly in academics with higher dropout rates. Providing a clean and healthy home can lead to fundamental health and social outcomes.
Key health risks related to housing
Inadequate housing is directly associated with several health risks. For example, due to poor construction or maintenance, structurally deficient housing can increase the likelihood that people slip or fall, increasing the risk of injury. Homes with poor ventilation and faulty heating systems contribute to respiratory and lung diseases. High indoor temperatures can impact the health of the heart adversely. Indoor air pollution may trigger allergic and irritant reactions, such as asthma. Congestion and crowding inside homes promote the spread of infections and lead to stress build-up. Inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities affect food safety and personal hygiene.
Alternatively, modern urban housing can be comfortable but may not support sufficient physical activity and thus contributes to weight gain and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, poor mental and heart health. The use of unsafe materials or building practices during the construction of houses and their location in unsafe or disaster-prone regions can expose people to various life hazards, poor quality of life, and death.
Housing is a crucial determinant of health. Substandard housing impacts all domains of health and promotes disease burden, lifelong chronic illnesses, and mental disorders. Chronic allergies and respiratory disorders like asthma are associated with fungal and pest infestations1, dust, and seepage2. Chemicals such as asbestos3 and radon4 are highly toxic and cause fatal cancer. Houses with older construction fitted with lead-coated water pipes raise serious concern for average growth and brain development in children living in such places5. In most developing countries, people widely use kerosene as fuel for cooking and lighting, and fire accidents and explosions are frequently reported housing hazards6. In Sri Lanka, a hospital documented that around 41% of patients hospitalized for burns stated kerosene lamps to be the main reason7.
Your house affects mental health and growth. Housing with robust structure and convenient design promotes satisfaction, positivity, and efficiency and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression8. Poor mental health can be attributed to unhealthy housing factors such as poor light penetration, recurring pest infestation, seepage, dampness, and cold. In the Philippines, thousands of people are displaced from their dwellings every year due to typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural calamities. The forces of nature destroy lives and livelihoods and worsen the housing situation in the country. People are bound to live in ‘shanties’ under extremely poor habitation and sanitation conditions and are often categorized as illegal migrants.
In addition to the direct impacts of poor housing conditions on health, secondary impacts such as medical liabilities further deteriorate the wellbeing of people and communities. In Sri Lanka, after the end of the 26-year civil war, many families were displaced from their homes and migrated to safer regions. These people reportedly moved into makeshift housing or tin sheet shacks without adequate power supply, clean water, and safe sanitation.
Read more about this on ‘Maintain healthy air quality at home’
Criteria For Healthful Housing
Healthful housing should provide physical protection and shelter and support fundamental aspects such as cooking, eating, washing, and excretory functions. Healthy homes are designed, constructed, maintained, and used in a manner such as to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Living areas should be free from toxic or harmful materials. Healthful housing encourages personal and community development, promotes social relationships, reflects regard for environmental principles, and by all these means promotes holistic health and wellbeing9,10,11.
How to maintain a healthy, clean house
1.Keep it dry
Flooding is a regular occurrence in Vietnam. Vietnam has an extensive river network and is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme weather. Such places that are often struck by flooding and typhoons require affordable houses with safer roofs and floors and should be constructed using disaster-resilient techniques. The following should be considered:
- Repair leaks in roofs and walls to prevent water seepage.
- Regularly clean and maintain drainage systems: inside, around, and outside the house, especially before the rainy season.
- Check interior fittings and plumbing for leaks.
Identify and minimize the primary source of dust and contaminants. Wet cleaning is considered very effective in hot and arid regions or near roads and highways.
Regularly declutter your house and do not stuff it with furniture, clothes, gadgets, or other unnecessary items.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace guidelines stated that people should get 10 litres of fresh air/second they spend indoors12,13 . This has gained significant attention more than ever now, given the risk of the spread of coronavirus. If a family member or a resident in your building is infected with COVID-19, or any other infection, plenty of fresh air circulating in your living space will dilute the quantity of infectious material and thus reduce your risk of getting sick.
Proper ventilation in kitchens will reduce the build-up of gases and smoke.
In buildings with modern construction that usually involves sealed windows, inquire about the provision and scope of fresh air circulation.
Keep poisons and choking hazards out of the reach of children. Store and clearly label harmful substances, chemicals, sharp objects, and inflammable materials. Secure loose carpets and rugs to avoid tripping on the floor and getting injured. Install detectors to monitor air quality index, smoke, and carbon monoxide. Access to fire extinguishers should be convenient. Make your house pest-free using sticky traps, repellents, and baits in closed containers. Repair any crack and opening throughout the house so insects, reptiles, or small animals cannot get access. Preserve edible items in the air- and pest-resistant containers.
5. Energy Efficient
Optimize consumption of the minimal amount of energy and water.
- Make your homes adaptable to local weather conditions(weatherization). Healthful housing necessitates insulation and balanced airflow.
- Maintain an efficient power-saving air-conditioning system with adequate airflow and temperature regulation.
- Water heating units should be energy efficient and follow safety norms.
Our house is intrinsic to our health and wellbeing. The healthy house represents access to resources and our ability to participate in more effective decision-making processes related to our life and health. Building healthy homes and communities impact a nation’s economy directly.
Relationships or home, attend to minor repairs and problems well in time before they become vital!!
- Dannemiller KC, Gent JF, Leaderer BP, Peccia J. Influence of housing characteristics on bacterial and fungal communities in homes of asthmatic children. Indoor Air. 2016;26(2):179-192. doi:10.1111/ina.12205
- Krieger J, Higgins DL. Housing and health: time again for public health action. Am J Public Health. 2002;92(5):758-768. doi:10.2105/ajph.92.5.758
- Lemen RA, Landrigan PJ. Toward an Asbestos Ban in the United States. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(11):E1302. doi:10.3390/ijerph14111302
- Hauri D, Spycher B, Huss A, et al. Domestic radon exposure and risk of childhood cancer: a prospective census-based cohort study. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(10):1239-1244. doi:10.1289/ehp.1306500
- Sachdeva C, Thakur K, Sharma A, Sharma KK. Lead: Tiny but Mighty Poison. Indian J Clin Biochem IJCB. 2018;33(2):132-146. doi:10.1007/s12291-017-0680-3
- Forjuoh SN. Burns in low- and middle-income countries: a review of available literature on descriptive epidemiology, risk factors, treatment, and prevention. Burns J Int Soc Burn Inj. 2006;32(5):529-537. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2006.04.002
- Laloë V. Epidemiology and mortality of burns in a general hospital of Eastern Sri Lanka. Burns J Int Soc Burn Inj. 2002;28(8):778-781. doi:10.1016/s0305-4179(02)00202-4
- Curl A, Kearns A. Can housing improvements cure or prevent the onset of health conditions over time in deprived areas? BMC Public Health. 2015;15:1191. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-2524-5
- World Health Organization. Policies, Regulations and Legislation Promoting Healthy Housing: A Review. World Health Organization; 2021. Accessed November 18, 2021. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/338940
- World Health Organization. WHO Housing and Health Guidelines. World Health Organization; 2018. Accessed November 18, 2021. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/276001
- Riggs L, Keall M, Howden-Chapman P, Baker MG. Environmental burden of disease from unsafe and substandard housing, New Zealand, 2010–2017. Bull World Health Organ. 2021;99(4):259-270. doi:10.2471/BLT.20.263285
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Improving Ventilation in Your Home. Published January 7, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/Improving-Ventilation-Home.html
- The Building Regulations 2010: Ventilation. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/468871/ADF_LOCKED.pdf