Dangers of Being a Couch Potato

By Sarah Bae

Back in High School, after a long day of grueling study, I would come home to flop on the couch in front of my computer and spend hours doing nothing. Sometimes my whole family would spend large parts of our vacations and weekends relaxing in front of the TV. Besides the calories accumulated from constant snacking during these times, we never thought there were possible health risks associated with our practice. But, there is one danger that enjoying the comfort of your couch can cause – the danger of indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be especially detrimental to older adults because studies show that they spend up to 90% of their time indoors. Indoor air is made up of a mix of contaminants such as secondhand smoke, fumes from household cleaning products, and more. Indoor contaminants can be dangerously toxic, especially to those already at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces can create smoke that contains fine carbon particles which can trigger chest pain, palpitations, fatigue, and more while household products like the vapors from cleaning products, paint solvents, and pesticides can stress the lungs and heart. If your home was built before 1978, you should also make sure that there are no more traces of lead-based paint, as traces of lead can cause serious health hazards like high blood pressure. Furthermore, victims of pesticide poisonings show symptoms such as arrhythmia, a very slow pulse, or in severe cases even heart attacks. To decrease your chances of exposure to these risks, tell smokers to take it outdoors, and limit the use of wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Also use caution when working around the house by improving your ventilation when indoor painting is taking place – open the windows and take frequent fresh air breaks. Leave the house for a few days after the painting has been completed as well. Also, be careful when using pesticides and always take protective measures such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Change clothes and wash hands after exposure to pesticides and wash the exposed clothes separately.

About the author: Sarah Bae is a summer intern for the EPA’s Office of Public Engagement. She is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Society and Environment.

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