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Is Your Home Ready for Winter?

By Karen Cicero for Completely You

With all the time spent inside during the winter, it pays to make your home a healthy sanctuary. All it takes is a handful of small changes to help protect yourself and your family against viruses and toxins, as well as boost immunity and well-being, says Dr. Frank Lipman, director of the Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. Here’s how:

1. Winter Worry: Indoor Air Pollution

Smart solution: Houseplants
Indoor air pollution is a bigger worry in winter months because very little fresh air is coming in -- meaning that chemicals released by everything from cleaning products to dry cleaning bags stay inside your home. “Plus, families are more likely to use fireplaces and candles, which both release pollutants into the air,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. When your immune system is distracted by these toxins, it’s less likely to fend off cold and flu viruses that come your way. The good news is: “Just one small plant can help remove pollution from 100 square feet of space,” according to Dr. Lipman. Spider plants, English ivy and Boston ferns are some of the best air-filtering houseplants.

2. Winter Worry: Musty Smells

Smart solution: Oranges
Without fresh air circulating in your house, you may be tempted to buy an air freshener or spray a deodorizer. “But they can emit harmful chemicals called particulates,” warns Dr. Landrigan. Give your house a pleasant citrusy scent by baking orange peels at 300 F for about 15 to 20 minutes, then cracking open the oven door to let the aroma spread throughout the house.

3. Winter Worry: Bacteria and Viruses

Smart solution: Slippers
You know it’s important to wash your hands. But for another source of germs, just look down -- to your feet! A University of Arizona study found nine species of bacteria on people’s shoes, which can easily transfer them to tile floors and carpeting. What’s more, boot and shoe soles can track chemicals (like those from road de-icers) into your house as well! To keep your home healthy, keep a pair of slippers in a basket by the front door for each family member. Not only will they be comfier, but your house will be a lot easier to keep clean too.

4. Winter Worry: Dry Air 

Smart solution: Humidifiers
Low humidity in your home can dry out nasal passages, causing cracks. Any germs and viruses that do get into your house can get stuck in the cracks, making transmission much more likely, according to research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. A humidifier can help, so it’s smart to set humidifiers up for the entire sneezin’ season rather than waiting until you get a cold. Just keep in mind that you must empty the humidifier of water daily and dry it out before refilling, as well as do a more through cleaning every three days so it doesn’t spread mold or bacteria.

5. Winter Worry: Carbon Monoxide

Smart solution: Carbon monoxide detectors
This colorless, odorless gas given off by furnaces, propane stoves and portable generators sends 15,000 Americans to the emergency room every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the CDC notes that the most accidental carbon monoxide poisonings occur in January. So if you haven’t already, install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Be sure to include the basement, because that’s where most heating systems are and a problem can be detected there first. However, don’t place it within 15 feet of a heating system or gas-burning appliance because it may emit a small amount of carbon-monoxide on startup. And just as with your smoke detector, be sure to change the batteries every six months, suggests Landrigan.

6. Winter Worry: The Blues

Smart solution: New lightbulbs
Lack of sunlight can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that tends to occur in winter. Your body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone produced during darkness, may increase, causing such symptoms of depression as sleep problems, lethargy and anxiety. Fortunately, there’s an easy preventive measure you can take for that: Replace your regular bulbs (or at least those in rooms where you spend a lot of time) with full-spectrum ones that mimic natural sunlight, suggests Lipman. You can pick them up at most hardware stores.

Got other winter home issues on your mind? Tell us below or tweet us @Completely_You

Karen Cicero is Completely You’s Need to Know blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, SELF and Health, and she has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.

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