Is your house making your child sick?

Think you have high housekeeping standards? But your home has things that could be causing your child to fall ill…

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You’ve been to the paediatrician twice this month already, and your kiddo is on all sorts of meds to soothe his stuffy nose. He is also taking supplements to boost his immunity. Yet, he keeps falling sick.

Or perhaps, despite your best efforts to provide nutritious homecooked meals for your family, the little one often has diarrhoea, episodes of vomiting, or breaks out in itchy, red, angry rashes. Much as you hate to admit it, the reason for this could be your home.

If you suspect that your child is an unsuspecting victim of household hazards, wise up to these common problems, plus learn ways to address them.

BATHROOMS

High contact points
Places you touch often are the places where bacteria spreads most easily”, notes Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. Hotspots that you need to clean often include:
*the sink
*taps
*door handles
*showerheads
*the toilet seat

Damp areas
Mould grows where the indoor environment is damp ― typically in showers and under sinks with leaky pipes.

Dr Steve Yang, a respiratory specialist at Raffles Internal Medicine Centre, explains that exposure to mould occurs through the inhalation of mould spores, which can be both an irritant and allergen.

“As an irritant, this can lead to nasal stuffiness, eye or skin irritation. For persons who are allergic to mould, it can cause asthma.” He adds that in patients who have chronic lung diseases, exposure to mould can cause the development of mould infections in the lungs. So, make sure to dry out damp areas, ventilate the bathroom, or use moisture absorbers such as Thirsty Hippo.

Towels
We all come in contact with them when we dry our faces and bodies. Since bath and face towels retain moisture, these may allow bacteria to breed if your bathroom isn’t properly ventilated. Worse, these also pick up dead skin particles that microbes feed on.

Communal hand towels that aren’t changed regularly mean that diseases can be spread between the different people who use them. Everyone should have their own bath and face towels, and these should be hung on a rail to dry completely after each use.

Wash as often as you can. If possible, wash them at high temperatures of 90 deg C, otherwise, use a laundry cleanser that kills bacteria.

Rubber bath toys
These are HUGE mould magnets and are extremely hard to wash and clean.

Dr Leong points out, “Bath toys are an often-handled item, which means skin germs like Staphylococcus aureus — which makes toxins — can inhabit it.” Plus, kids often like to put such toys in their mouths.

Soaking the toys in vinegar or bleach (but the playthings will need to be washed thoroughly) may help remove the mould, but a better solution would be to get rid of rubber bath toys, and use floating plastic toys like cups that can be cleaned easily.

Kitchens, bedrooms and much, much more…

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KITCHEN

Surfaces

The kitchen has plenty of surfaces where bacteria transfer can happen: Taps, sinks, table tops, chopping boards and cooking utensils are just a few we can list offhand. If there is cross contamination involving food, Dr Leong notes that children can get very sick from vomiting and diarrhoea, and even blood poisoning. So, introduce the concept of clean and dirty.

He says, “Clean is something that has been washed with soap, dirty is something that has touched something raw or uncooked.”

Hands are considered dirty unless they have just been washed with soap and water.

Raw meat
Raw meat can contain all kinds of bacteria, including faecal bacteria. “This may come from meat contamination at the butcher’s or at the slaughter house,” Dr Leong notes. The bacteria is transmitted easily when, for example, a dish cloth used to clean a contaminated table top carries the bacteria to your hands. When preparing raw meat, it is useful to label different cooking utensils like these, so you can separate those used for raw food from those for cooked food.

Dish clothes and sponges
These are a hotbed for bacteria. Dr Leong recommends cleaning these with soap and hot water.

BEDROOMS AND LIVING AREAS

Dust mites
Our tropical climate is the ideal breeding ground for dust mites, who feed on shed human skin.

“The dust mite’s digestive enzymes and exoskeleton both contribute to allergic reactions in patients who are sensitive to them,” explains Dr Yang. In particular, high quantities of dust mites may trigger eczema, rhinitis, and asthma in children who are suffering from such allergic conditions.

Dust mites are common in bedding, cushions and throws, curtains and carpets. If your child is sensitive to dust mites, it’s a good idea to limit the number of stuffed toys and plush items in your home, and pick hardwood or tiled surfaces over carpeted floors. Bedding should also be washed in very high temperatures (90 deg C) to kill the mites.

Pets
Think twice about bringing a dog or cat into the home, especially if your child is allergic or sensitive to animal fur. But if you do have a “fur kid” in your home, reduce the impact by mopping and vacuuming frequently, bathing your pet as often as you can, and keeping it out of the bedrooms. Keeping fish or turtles as pets may be a better idea.

Water leakage
If there is condensation on windows or pipes, water stains, or warping wood floors, then mould is likely to be present, says Dr Yang. “If your child constantly has sore eyes, itchy skin or a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and sore throat, you should suspect that there is mould in the home.”

Musty smells usually indicate that mould and mildew are present. “It indicates the presence of moisture, stagnant air and lack of sunlight — all of which encourage the growth of these fungi,” Dr Yang notes.

Mould can also grow in closets and wardrobes, particularly if you don’t air them often.

Food
Wherever there’s food, there will be creepy crawlies who will invade and feed on them. “The feet of these bugs would have travelled everywhere with bacteria all over, and contaminate your home,” explains Dr Leong. Hence, food in the bedroom is an absolute no-no.

Also, Dr Leong cautions against the myth of the “three-second rule”, in which one assumes that it’s safe to eat food that’s dropped on the floor if it’s picked up within three seconds. “It doesn’t work — not even a three-millisecond rule,” he says.

Surely there can’t be more problems? Well… yes. Click on…

HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES

Washing machine
Low temperature washing — useful for your coloured clothes or delicates — might not be strong enough to kill disease-causing bugs. Often our soiled clothes contain food, or even faecal matter — and the bacteria aren’t killed when the temperature isn’t high enough. Babies and young children, in particular, are more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections, which could easily be transferred from soiled clothes.

As the washing machine is a damp environment, it’s also susceptible to mould. So, give your machine a maintenance wash on a regular basis, clean out the detergent drawer and the rubber seal. Drying your clothes indoors can also cause indoor moisture levels to rise, causing mould spores to breed. Ensure that the place you are drying your clothes is well ventilated and has plenty of sunlight. Ideally, dry your clothes outdoors or in a tumble drier.

Air conditioner
Mould can form in the air conditioning system, especially if condensation occurs. Keep your aircon unit clean, to ensure that there is no organic matter on the ducts and vents for mould to feed on.

Photos: iStock

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