Trapped With Your VOC's?
October means chilly mornings, ripe
pumpkins, and Halloween costumes and spending more time indoors.
As the weather cools down and autumn sets in, we spend less time
outside, and more time inside the house. We even keep the windows
and doors closed as much as possible, to trap in warm air and save
on heating bills. Unfortunately, as cozy as fall can be, many of us
are trapped inside homes with less-than-great air quality. The EPA
estimates levels of some common pollutants to be 2-5 times higher
inside homes than out. So, as you're settling in to enjoy fall, take
some time to analyze the air quality inside your home.
VOC's are a major concern for indoor air pollution. If you've ever
shopped for an air purifier, you've probably heard of these
mysterious chemicals but just what are they? This article is going
to tell you a little bit about VOC's: what they are, where they come
from, and how to get rid of them.
What is a VOC, anyway?
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. The
"organic" part means they contain carbon, and "volatile" means they
evaporate easily at room temperature. VOC's are chemicals like
benzene, toluene, methylene, chloride, formaldehyde, and many
others. According to the EPA, exposure to VOC's can cause symptoms
like nose and throat discomfort, allergic skin reactions, headaches,
asthma attacks, and nausea. In high enough exposures, they can cause
more serious health problems.
Where do VOC's come from?
VOC's are found in a wide variety of household
products. Just look under the kitchen or bathroom sink and you will
probably find many substances which emit some kind of VOC. VOC's are
found in products as ubiquitous as paints, varnishes, cleaning
supplies, new carpets and furniture, fragrances and air fresheners,
glues and adhesives, disinfectants, and other sources. Now you can
see why VOC's are found in such greater concentrations inside the
So how can VOC's be avoided?
Obviously, VOC's cannot be removed from the home completely they are simply a part of modern life.
However, there are several steps you can take to reduce your exposure to safer and healthier levels.
To cut down on VOC's:
- Limit your use of air fresheners, fabric conditioners, window
cleaning fluids, sprays and aerosols, and dry cleaning.
- Avoid using pesticides inside the house.
- Look for products without fragrances or dyes, or products for
- When painting, look for paints that are labeled "low-VOC", and try
to use water-based paints and sealants.
- Don't mix household care or cleaning products unless directed on the
- Ventilate well while using paint or paint strippers, harsh cleaners,
and anything else "smelly". Briefly throwing open a window while using the product can keep concentrations from
- If you have unused containers of these products sitting around,
throw them away even closed containers can leak gases. Make sure
you dispose of them safely; you can check with your city or county
for household hazardous waste collection sites.
- For products you only use occasionally or seasonally, buy in a small
quantity that you will use right away.
- Let new furniture or furnishings air out for a while before bringing
them into the home, or ensure that the room they will be in is
- Removing dust can help reduce exposure, as dust is a great absorbent
for VOC's. Use a pleated filter in your furnace, or run an air
- Run an air purifier which removes VOC's.
What does MCS mean?
Products which emit lower levels of VOC's (or air purifiers which
remove VOC's) are sometimes marketed as being good for people with
MCS Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. People who suffer from this
condition experience a wide variety of symptoms when exposed to low
levels of common chemicals symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and
shortness of breath.
While more and more people have come forward with complaints of this
condition, MCS remains a highly controversial topic. Most doctors do
not yet consider MCS a recognized condition, because there is no way
to diagnose it. MCS sufferers have no consistent set of specific signs
and symptoms, and there is no way to objectively test for MCS.
However, while some doctors have concluded that MCS is merely
psychological, others continue to keep an open mind. Hopefully
further and more conclusive research will be done in the future.
In the meantime, there are several steps that the EPA advises MCS
sufferers to follow. These steps may help reduce symptoms. Not to
mention, they contain good advice for just about everyone who wants
to improve their health and their environment.
1. Practice good health habits many MCS sufferers, and allergy
sufferers as well, have found that a good strong immune system may
help reduce their symptoms. For a healthy immune symptom, avoid
alcohol and cigarettes; get plenty of rest; exercise regularly; and
maintain a nutritious and balanced diet.
2. Avoid large quantities of vitamin supplements and untested herbs
or pills, which can be toxic or cause allergies themselves. If
you're worried about your diet, speak to a certified nutritionist.
3. Avoid high levels of stress. Stress is known to aggravate
allergic reactions and other illnesses.
4. Keep a diary to identify conditions which make you feel better,
and then try to reproduce those conditions.
Q: How does skin testing for allergies work?
Many people dread the idea of getting skin tested for allergies.
However, while the procedure may not be pleasant, it is not painful,
and generally does not require a great deal of time. There are
three main methods:
The intracutaneous method
In this method, the suspected allergen is injected into the skin of
your arm. The intracutaneous method is generally used for allergens like
insect venom or penicillin. Because its the most sensitive test, it
can yield false-positives the test involves a more intense contact
with the allergen then you'll encounter in daily life. However, this
is true for all the tests even though you are allergic to a
certain substance, you may not regularly exhibit symptoms.
The epicutaneous method (also called the patch test)
In this method, the suspected allergen is applied to a patch or
bandage, which is placed against your skin for a longer period of
time, usually 48 hours, after which you'll return to your doctor for
evaluation. This method is generally used for skin-contact allergens
like latex, fragrances, dyes, or medicines.
The percutaneous method (also called the puncture, prick, or scratch
This is the most common method, and is commonly used to identify
typical environmental allergens like pollen, mold, pet dander, dust
mites, and food allergens. This test is conducted by applying an extract of
an allergen to the skin, typically on the forearm or back. The nurse
or doctor uses a pen to mark areas on your skin, and then places a
drop of a different allergen in each area. Then, a small pricking
device like a blunt needle is used, so that the extract can enter
the outer layer of the skin. The skin prick does not cause bleeding
and is not painful, just mildly irritating.
After about 15 minutes, the doctor or nurse will look for signs of
an allergic response a red bump, surrounded by a red inflamed
area. If you test positive, your healthcare provider
will discuss treatments and solutions with you.
Want to have your allergy questions answered by the experts? Send
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