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Spring-cleaning provides dangers for those with respiratory problems

Date: 5/15/2014

SPRINGFIELD – With the snow long gone and temperatures finally rising, it’s getting to be that time again to open the windows, air out the basement, and vacuum the carpets as spring cleaning season arrives.

But as many don their gloves and prepare to clean and dust spaces that haven’t been touched in months, it’s important to exercise caution in the face of dust, mold, and other airborne allergens that can accompany a good spring cleaning.

For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other lung diseases, spring-cleaning can be hazardous to their health due to everyday dust and grime that can trigger allergies and breathing problems. But, that’s not the only problem where their health is concerned – household cleaners are also potentially harmful for those with lung disease.

Mary Ellen Scales, RN, chief of Infection Control at Baystate Medical Center, recommends wearing a nuisance mask if susceptible to allergens.

“You can pick up a nuisance mask at your local hardware store. It’s a good investment since the dust that has settled over the last six months can easily upset your respiratory track while cleaning those areas you haven’t touched during the winter,” she said.

Along with the many allergens kicked up into the air during spring-cleaning, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunization classifies household cleaners and perfumes in the air as “irritants,” as well.

When it comes time to wash away the dust and grime this spring, Scales recommends using simply traditional soap and water and saving chemical-based cleaners for those really hard-to-clean spots.

“Don’t head straight to the harsh chemicals when cleaning. Soap and water is good enough for most all areas. However, I do recommend using disinfectants for the kitchen and bathroom areas,” Scales said.

Dr. Douglas Johnson, a pulmonologist in the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Baystate Medical Center, echoed Scales’ sentiments, adding good ventilation is essential when cleaning with chemicals.

“Without proper ventilation, cleaning agents can fill up the airspace very quickly and exacerbate any pre-existing conditions such as asthma and other lung diseases,” Johnson said.

Johnson added when preparing air conditioners to keep a house cool in the warmer weather ahead, be sure to look for any mold buildup and change the filters as needed.

“New, fresh filters will help prevent any spores from entering into the air in your house due to mold or other organisms that may have built up and festered during the winter months. This is especially important because as the humidity begins to increase in the spring and summer months, moist conditions encourage further growth of these fungi,” Johnson said.

When charging head-on into spring-cleaning, irritants aren’t the only things to worry about. While outside, whether prepping the garden or cleaning the gutters, there are a number of safety issues that can result in physical injury such as falls.

According to the National Safety Council, each year there are some 135,000 people treated in U.S. emergency departments for ladder-related injuries, many while cleaning or repairing their homes. These falls resulted in sprains, strains, fractures, and bruises to the back, as well as joint injuries – wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, and hips.

There’s also the issue of “house guests” who may have settled in a storage box in the attic over the long winter months, warned Scales.

“It’s not uncommon to find nesting materials in the attic or garage where critters have set up a home. As you handle and dispose of these materials, make sure to look for and repair any places of entry,” Scales said.