Mould in a window corner. Photo: iStock/FotoDuets.

Many of us try very hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising daily, taking vitamins, and staying mindful of our overall well-being.

While focusing on these lifestyle choices, it is easy to overlook the direct link between the health of the home and the health of our bodies.

Oftentimes, when we think of our apartment we think of safety and comfort. Many of us have invested a lot of time and effort in turning a bleak space into a reprieve where we spend a great deal of our day. In fact, Australians spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors – at work, school, or in the home.

However, the apartment where we find solace may not be as safe as we think. While living in a small space, and in close proximity to other people, there are higher risks for health hazards. Considering the amount of time spent inside our apartments, it is in our best interest to ensure the health of the home. Common hidden hazards that might be lurking in your apartment include the following.

Mould

Mould, which is part of the fungi family, can be found both indoors and outdoors. If you notice that your apartment contains moist or wet areas with poor ventilation, (such as bathroom tiles or certain walls/wallpaper), mould could be present or in the process of forming.

There are many different types of mould, all of which have the potential to cause health problems. When mould grows, tiny mould spores are carried into the air. If inhaled, you may experience a runny or stuffy nose, wheezing, or eye and skin irritation. If you have conditions such as asthma and allergies, you may be more sensitive to mould. Furthermore, if you have a weakened immune system, such as people undergoing chemotherapy, you may be at risk of contracting a mould infection in the lungs.

To prevent mould growth, reduce the moisture and dampness in your apartment. While showering, cooking, doing laundry, turn on fans and open windows. Limiting the use of humidifiers and repairing all leaks as soon as possible will further hinder mould growth.

If you do find mould in your apartment, talk to your landlord to have it removed as soon as possible.

Dust Mites

Everyone has a favourite “spot” in the home; whether that is a certain chair or just the comfort of your bed. However, our favourite areas of the house could be the dust mite’s hiding place

Dust is primarily comprised of the mites favourite food – our dead skin cells. Therefore, it makes sense that the areas in the apartments which we relax most often have higher mite populations. The most common type of dust mite in Australian homes is the Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, often found in coastal regions.

This particular mite has been found to trigger dermatological and respiratory allergies, such as wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, chest tightening, skin rashes and more. Dust mites are less than a half millimetre in length, oval-shaped and wingless, often found in mattresses, furniture, carpets and soft toys.

Although it is impossible to destroy all dust mites in your apartment, there are measures to reduce the population, such as washing pillowcases and sheets each weak in 55 degrees Celsius or warmer. Using synthetic pillows and doonas rather than feather have also been shown to reduce the presence of mites. Vacuuming and dusting weekly is also suggested as a preventive measure.

Asbestos

If your apartment building was built before 1980, it most likely contains asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fibre. In Australia, the material was commonly used in the construction of residential and commercial buildings for its affordability and insulating properties between the mid-1940s and late 1980s. However, in December 2003, a total ban on the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of asbestos was enacted.

If asbestos is disturbed, the particles release into the air. Once inhaled, the fibres can bury themselves in the linings of the lungs, heart or abdomen where mesothelioma cancer can later form. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, accounting for roughly 70 to 90 percent of all cases. Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest and back pain, difficulty swallowing, persistent coughing, shortness of breath and fluid around the lungs.

Although asbestos is banned, many landlords and tenants may be unaware that the material is present in their older apartment buildings. Asbestos may be found in cement sheets, ceilings, floors, tiles, beneath wood-heaters and more. If you are concerned that there may be asbestos is in your apartment, bring this to the attention of your landlord or apartment owner to determine how to proceed.

Healthy Apartment, Healthier You

Your apartment is a place that you most likely spend a great deal of time. Therefore, it is never too late to ensure your health and safety by considering the conditions of your home. If you are looking for new a new apartment, don’t be afraid to ask the landlord, realtor, or former tenants about the condition of the space. Though asking these questions alone may not be enough, doing your own research can ensure the information is accurate. Look beyond the cosmetics and pay attention to the functionality and structural health.

If you are a longtime resident of your apartment complex but have noticed issues within the space which could affect your health, bring this to the attention of your landlord. He, or she, should help ensure that the space is healthy and safe. By taking the time now to safeguard your health, you are investing in a healthy future.

Sarah Wallace

The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center brings attention to the dangers of asbestos and the deadly form of cancer it causes: mesothelioma. The MAA Center is an independent group working to help mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates and others looking to learn more about the disease.