Home health hazards - and how to beat them

An Englishman's home may be his castle, but it can be dangerous to your health. As with medical conditions, prevention is better than cure, so take simple steps to avoid accidents and keep you and your loved ones safe at home. If you have elderly relatives or neighbours, look around their home with new eyes next time you visit - and don't feel shy about pointing out problems. You'd never forgive yourself if they ended up in hospital with a broken hip as a result of a fall that could have been avoided.

Replace appliances with worn flexes to cut the risk of fire or electrocution - you can't afford not to.

As the evenings draw in, candles can create an elegant ambience. But keep them away from curtains and stray elbows.

About one in three Britons over 65 fall each year, and the cost to the NHS is over £2 billion a year. Sometimes physical problems like poor eyesight, loss of strength, balance problems or drug side effects can make you prone to falls. But so can hazards in the home. To cut your risk of falls at any age:

- Avoid energy-saving or low-voltage bulbs in stairways, so you can see where you're stepping

- Throw away frayed mats; don't put rugs on top of carpets and do replace worn carpet or torn lino

- Don't leave wires (from lamps etc) trailing on the floor

- Wear slippers with proper backs (and ideally Velcro® straps so they fit snugly)

- Keep things you use commonly at waist to eye level, so you don't have to bend or stretch too often

- Don't climb ladders on your own.

Accidents in the home are among the most common causes of serious harm to kids in the UK. Perhaps not surprisingly, boys have more accidents than girls, and under-5s are at highest risk. Never forget that children grow with frightening speed, so childproof your home for what they can't yet reach as well as what they can. Small children love putting things in their mouths - keep small objects away from small hands, with medicines in a childproof cabinet, and child locks on cupboards. If you're cooking, keep pan handles facing in, away from the counter (ideally use the back rings). Keep hot drinks away from children's reach and get a cordless kettle.

Damp and mould can make breathing problems worse, especially if you suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Mould produces spores which can irritate your airways, eyes and nose, or can cause an allergic reaction with wheezing and breathing problems. Water seepage from leaking pipes, roofs or window frames, or rising damp in basements, are common culprits - get them fixed for your health's sake. But condensation in kitchens and bathrooms can cause mould too. Keep rooms well ventilated and leave doors open (except in the bathroom where you should shut the door to stop condensation escaping).

Officially, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills 50 and seriously injures 200 people a year in the UK. But the true figures may be much higher, because it's often not reported or the cause isn't picked up - the National Grid reported 9,500 call-outs for CO poisoning just over the summer months last year. CO is produced whenever fuel (gas, coal, charcoal, wood, oil) doesn't burn fully. Faulty boilers, water heaters, gas or open fires, cookers (and barbecues in summer) can all be to blame.

CO doesn't have any smell, taste or colour, so the only way to detect it early is with a CO monitor. Make sure you get one that complies with British Standard EN 50291 and carries an official approval mark such as a Kite Mark. You can buy a battery-powered CO alarm that's 'sealed for life', with batteries that will last 7-10 years - a small price to pay for peace of mind. And don't forget to get chimneys swept and boilers/cookers serviced regularly.

Smoke from a fire can kill just as surely as the fire itself - it's especially dangerous if it starts at night, when the house could be full of fumes before you wake. Fit a smoke alarm on every level and test them regularly. A well-stocked medicine cabinet is a must for dealing with emergencies. Keep plasters, bandages, painkillers, antiseptic and antihistamines to hand - but with enough precautions, you may not need them!

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.