Posted by Shifrah on Monday, October 31, 2011
Especially around fall and winter holidays, it's hard not to want to add that special touch to your home with fragrance. And if company is coming, you always want to get that lingering pet or fish dinner odor out of the air.

The problem is that commercial home deodorizing and fragrance products are laden with toxic chemicals that aren't healthy for anyone and that can set off asthma, allergies, and multiple chemical sensitivities in individuals prone to these conditions.

Rather than spraying, plugging in, or lighting odor-neutralizing or scented home fragrance products, try the following natural alternatives.

To eliminate odor naturally:

• Sprinkle baking soda in pet litter boxes.
• Sprinkle baking soda onto carpets about fifteen minutes before vacuuming.
• Pour white vinegar or lemon juice into the garbage disposal before running it. Or freeze these liquids into ice cubes and toss them into the disposal before running it.
• Put an opened box of baking soda in the fridge.
• Place bowls of white vinegar in odor-afflicted rooms.
• Use the AllerAir Tub O' Carbon Odor Buster in bathrooms or near litter boxes to absorb odors naturally.
• Try EcoDiscoveries AirZyme Air and Fabric Deodorizer as a safer alternative to mainstream deodorizing sprays.

To add fragrance to your home naturally:

• Soak some cotton balls in vanilla extract and put them in a small bowl in the fridge or in inconspicuous places around the house to add subtle fragrance.
• Boil some cinnamon sticks in some water on the stove.
• Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on a baking sheet and put in a warm oven to infuse your home with the holiday scent of baked goods.
• Start a new family tradition by making orange pomanders, which will fill your home with a citrusy sweet, natural, holiday fragrance.

Image courtesy of SJarmeredeJul.

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, October 28, 2011
Today in our regular perusal of allergy-related news, we came across Five Surprising Health Hazards on

In summary, the hazards highlighted were:

  • Licorice can lead to heart attacks. The FDA recently came out with a warning that too much black licorice could lead to heart trouble in adults, especially older ones. These heart problems include arrhythmias, and are due to the glycyrrhizin in black licorice, which can cause the body's potassium levels to fall.

  • Sugar substitutes can cause diarrhea. Sorbitol can lead to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. Look for it especially in "dietetic" type candies.

  • Eye injuries from thrown eggs. Shells from tossed-around eggs can cause blood in the front of the eye, scratches to the cornea, and retinal swelling. Eye injuries reported around Halloween time confirm that this danger is real, not an imagined paranoia.

  • Lead contamination. Halloween-themed toys, from candy buckets to fake teeth, that are contaminated with lead can cause to children to ingest unsafe amounts of lead.

  • Glow stick "poisoning." Increased incidents of children ingesting the liquid found in glow sticks occur around Halloween. Though the liquid is minimally toxic, poison control facilities should be contacted if this occurs.

Another truly frightening Halloween risk is to those who have food allergies. We wonder if this danger didn't make this list because it's a "known" risk or because, as we fear, lack of awareness of the dangers of food allergies is still the norm. What do you think?

For more on Halloween and allergies, see:
Halloween Asthma Triggers
Food Allergies and Halloween: Staying Safe
Helping Food Allergic Kids Feel "Normal"

Posted by Shifrah on Monday, October 24, 2011
I'm in Cambridge visiting my sister who's in graduate school at Harvard. This is my first "real" time being in the Boston area (I can't really count the three-hour stop I made here almost a decade ago) and I'm enjoying this Europe-like city very much.

One thing you can't help noticing here is the vast quantities of brick, which is used in sidewalks and in many of the buildings, both inside and out. And since my sister's dream loft (as in the one she wished she lived in, but doesn't) includes exposed brick on the interior, she points out this architectural detail whenever we encounter it.

What does all this have to do with allergies, you might wonder? Brick, beautiful and interesting as it is, is not a good design option for those with allergies. One reason is that the uneven surface of bricks collects allergens like dust mite allergen - and brick is not easy to clean. In addition, because brick is porous, it can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mildew, also not healthy for allergy and asthma sufferers, or anyone, for that matter.

If you find yourself living or working with interior brick, just realize that it could be an allergen source. Take steps to mitigate the effect the brick may have on your allergies by vacuuming the wall regularly and looking into a sealant to keep mildew and bacteria from growing. As always, knowledge is power and education is the first step to better health.

Posted by shifrah on Saturday, October 22, 2011
Fall is in full swing – and with it autumn allergies. The prelude to winter allergy woes, fall allergies are one of the worst seasons for those who suffer from allergic conditions. Ragweed pollen and mold can be especially prolific at this time of year, setting off the sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and general allergy malaise we know all too well.

In addition to the fundamental repertoire of allergy avoidance products such as air purifiers, allergy bedding, and a HEPA vacuum cleaner, specific allergies or allergy seasons call for particular allergy relief products.

Following are two allergy relief products that every allergy sufferer should have on hand in order to minimize fall allergy symptoms:

Window filters: Opening windows is excellent for letting fresh air circulate throughout homes that have been shut up against summer heat. But don't let in pollen along with that cool fall air! Window filters allow for circulation without the introduction of allergens into the home.

Masks: When taking care of fall yard work, masks are an absolute must for allergy sufferers. The combination of fallen rotting leaves and the dampness caused by rain creates mold and mildew that can trigger an onslaught of allergy symptoms. Wear a mask while raking and doing other outdoor chores to prevent mold exposure and the problems it causes.

Posted by Shifrah on Monday, October 17, 2011
Chemical exposure is all around us. Whether we are inhaling fumes from furniture or shower curtains, or ingesting food with preservatives or BPA content, toxic chemicals enter our bodies in various ways – and not without effect. Tests have found chemicals known to be carcinogenic or hormone-disruptive in our bodies and the repercussions are only just beginning to be understood.

Personal care products like shampoos, lotions, soaps, facial cleansers, and even toothpaste and nail polish are one significant source of possible chemical exposure. Without much regulation as to what can be included in these products, chemical exposure adds up quickly when you consider how many of these products are sprayed or slathered on daily.

The safest thing seems to be to minimize our exposure where possible by making less toxic choices. Personal care products are an excellent place to start since the chemicals in these items are either inhaled or absorbed into our skin every day. For those who suffer from allergies or multiple chemical sensitivity, making natural choices is even more of a necessity; choosing products with no preservatives, such as parabens, or fragrances often makes the difference between an unpleasant allergic reaction and none.

Self-education about which ingredients to look for and diligent label-reading (which we encourage) is important, but is there an easier way to choose personal care products that don't introduce a medley of toxic chemicals into our bodies?

The Environmental Working Group provides a valuable resource for exactly this. Their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a guide of more than 69,000 products rated according to toxicity levels. Users can search by product type, by specific product, by brand, by ingredients, and more. Results give an overall score as well as a breakdown of chemical components and their dangers.

For more on personal care products, chemical exposure, and natural alternatives, check out the following:

Olive Oil for Allergies: Face Wash and Eczema Treatment?
Check Your Labels for Common Chemical Irritatants
Free and Clear Shampoo and Conditioner Customer Reviews

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, October 14, 2011
My husband and I have to make a decision soon about whether we prefer a gas range or an electric range in our new home. Honestly, I like glass cook tops because they are much easier to clean. But I know the pros diehard gas range cite in favor of non-electric stoves and ovens (more control of the heat, faster heat, etc.).

An almost offhand remark made by our builder cinched my decision, however. He mentioned that gas ranges produce more "combustible material." This of course affects indoor air quality. Since our home will be certified green, it is incredibly tightly sealed. This is great for conserving energy and keeping heating and cooling costs low. But a tightly sealed home also means that any indoor air pollution has that much greater of an effect on the home's inhabitants.

Regardless of how tightly your home is sealed, however, it's important to be aware of combustion sources in the home because combustion pollutes indoor air and can even pose a deadly hazard, as in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Below are some recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in the Home:

  • Be extra careful when using unvented, fuel-burning space heaters. Avoid these kinds of heaters if possible. If you must use them, open a door from the room where the heater is being used, and crack a window as well. Follow manufacturer's directions carefully, especially regarding fuel and adjustment. A persistently yellow-tipped flame indicates improper adjustment and increased pollutant emissions.

  • Make sure gas ranges have exhaust fans over them – and use them. Exhaust fans should vent outdoors. Also be sure the burners are properly adjusted. Again, a yellow-tipped flame indicates increased pollutants stemming from maladjustment. Flame tips should be blue.

  • Ensure that the flue is open when using your gas fireplace.

  • Use extreme caution when using wood-burning stoves. Choose new stoves that are correctly sized and that meet EPA emissions standards. Be certain that doors on old stoves are tight-fitting. Only use aged or cured wood. Pressure treated wood should never be burned indoors because of the chemicals used to treat it.

  • Have central air handling systems, including chimneys, flues, and furnaces, inspected every year and repair as necessary. "Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide." In addition, the EPA recommends changing furnace filters every month or two when the units are in use. Even new furnaces need maintenance, as they too can corrode and leak combustion gases including carbon monoxide.
Image courtesy of: gas flame: flickr by stevendepolo.

Posted by Shifrah on Monday, October 10, 2011
The more you know about the dangers of the toxic chemicals that are all around us, the more you do your best to avoid them. Simple lifestyle changes like swapping Windex for a homemade vinegar solution to clean glass and major decisions like choosing to purchase a natural foam mattress instead of a typical one filled with poisonous flame retardants are all affected by a desire to minimize exposure to noxious fumes.

But what happens when indoor air pollution "attacks"? What can you do when you know the air you're breathing is toxic but there's nothing you can do to stop the pollution? Here's what I mean: Last Friday, a maintenance man came to our apartment to fix a leaking A/C unit. (I hate to even think about the mildew that must be forming in the pipes, not to mention the patch of carpet that has been perpetually damp. Good thing we're moving next month.)

Part of what the worker did involved using some kind of spray adhesive, which I wasn't warned about beforehand. The fumes were instantly overwhelming – to the point where I could taste them in my mouth. I scooped up the children from their lunches and whisked them outside while my husband ran around opening windows and turning on fans to increase ventilation and fresh air circulation.

We went out for a while so the fumes could subside. Another thing I hate to think about is how the chemical probably settled onto furniture and carpeting, but I don't know what I can do about that. Do you have experience dodging unexpected indoor air pollution? What's your way of escaping it or alleviating the problem?

(Allergy friends, this sudden fleeing from our home caused my usual Friday blog post to go clear out of my head. I'm sorry, and 'til next time!)

Posted by Shifrah on Monday, October 03, 2011

In today's blog, we bring you a summary of tips from about how to prevent bed bugs:

  • "Prevention is key." Bed bug extermination can cost upwards of $1200 and the physical and emotional toll the process exacts can be costly as well. Prevention is not only obviously desirable, but easily attainable. Bedbug-proof bedding, such as mattress covers and box spring covers, laundering your clothes, and the hiring of pest interceptors to advise on bed bug infestation prevention are all recommended. Early detection of a problem also saves money, so becoming educated about how to prevent and spot bed bug problems is an integral component of prevention.

  • Inspect your hotel room. As much as even just thinking about the possibility of bed bugs in your hotel room might give you the heebie-jeebies, it's important to take the time to inspect for them when you're staying at a hotel – no matter how nice the establishment. Pull back the sheets to look for signs of bedbugs on the mattress and box spring, and also inspect the headboard.

  • Don't bring bed bugs into your home. After a "suspicious" hotel stay, where you may have encountered bedbugs (and for sure if you know you did): unpack your suitcase outside of your living area (like in a garage or outside); put all clothes through a hot wash or dry cycle to kill bedbugs; disinfect your suitcase with no-pest strips.

  • Recognize bedbug bites. Bites are often the first sign of a bed bug infestation. But what do bedbug bites look like? They look like mosquito bites but typically come in clusters of at least three. In addition, they tend to affect areas of the body that are exposed while sleeping, like arms, the neck, face, and shoulders.

  • Call a professional bedbug exterminator. The key word here is professional. While you're waiting for the professional's visit, do what you can at home, including steam cleaning and vacuuming the mattress. Be sure to empty the vacuum cleaner outside the home. DO NOT use over-the-counter pesticides, which can make the problem worse. Bedbugs that aren't killed by the pesticide sense the chemical and flee, thereby spreading the infestation to other areas of the home.

  • Don't panic. Horrifying as it would be to confront a bedbug infestation in your own home, reports that only about 10 percent of cases are considered severe enough to require disposing of all furniture and cleaning each item of clothing. As a rule of thumb, the article indicates, it's safe to only consider your case severe if you actually see the bedbugs walking around your home. Yikes.

Tags: Bedbugs
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