You might be surprised to learn that some of the most common products in your home could be dangerous to your health if not stored or used safely. We use them every day, yet we rarely think about the potential dangers they may pose. From popular insecticides to medications, and even seemingly innocent items like cleaning products.
For Ntando Shabalala from Utrecht in KwaZulu-Natal, experiencing symptoms of shortness of breath, throat irritation, and blocked sinuses after using insecticides in her home has been a challenge.
She says she has, however, learned the importance of reading the instructions on the containers and has since practised using them safely, making them better for her health.
“I frequently use a popular insecticide for crawling and flying insects, which are cockroaches and mosquitoes, especially during the summer. It always causes blocked noses, sinuses, and throat irritation that starts about 20 to 30 minutes after spraying and shortness of breath about an hour later because I just spray it immediately when I see an insect and stay inhaling the odour.
“I have found spraying insecticides in the evening while sitting outside with windows open, or if I’m not going to be home to inhale them, much safer than using them while inside the house,” she explains.
The operations and stewardship manager at CropLife SA, Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, says we need household products such as insecticides, however, safe usage and storage are critical to minimise health risks associated with these products.
The good and bad
“If you look at humankind, we are far beyond the point of being natural all around, and we rely on multicultural crops to feed ourselves, so we need some support to defend ourselves against all these insects that cause illnesses like malaria.
“There are many things that lie around and are conducive to the growth of a lot of very harmful bacteria and pathogen microbes. So we need these chemicals to support healthy living and healthy gardens, which will result in healthy food crops,” Verdoorn explains.
He says many people turned to food gardening during the Covid-19 pandemic because of job losses. Thus, in order to protect their food and their own personal health, he advises that we cannot shy away from these typical home chemicals due to their benefits, but we should rather always practise mindful usage.
Better safe than sorry
According to Durban-based medical doctor Dr Thabani Dlamini, there may be health risks associated with exposure to household products if not used according to the label, depending on what kind of products you are exposed to; hence, it is always important to store and use them safely.
He warns that if not used safely, insecticides can cause problems with breathing, nausea, and vomiting; in severe instances, they can cause seizures, unconsciousness, or coma, and some products are corrosive in the gastrointestinal tract.
Dlamini advises that emergency numbers should always be on speed dial or pasted in visible and accessible areas like the fridge to get help as soon as possible if there’s a slight ingestion by a child or adult of a product not meant to be absorbed.
“For any product taken by a victim, try and get the time it was taken; it will really help when treating the client in the hospital. Also, bring the container to the hospital; it might also help to know the amount that was used.
“Time is also very important – time to call for help and timing from the time of ingestion of the product. Always ensure that you get help as soon as possible!”
Three top tips for every household
- Mindful usage: When using household chemicals like insecticides, always read and follow the instructions on the containers, and avoid inhaling the fumes directly. Practising mindful usage can help protect your health.
- Secure storage: Store medicines and household products, especially those that can be harmful if ingested, in their original containers. Use child-resistant containers and keep them out of children’s reach. This prevents accidental consumption and ensures that products are easily identifiable and properly stored.
- Emergency preparedness: Keep emergency numbers on speed dial and visibly posted, like on the fridge, to quickly seek help in case of accidental ingestion or exposure to harmful substances. If someone ingests a dangerous product, seek medical assistance immediately, providing as much information as possible about the product, the amount taken, and the time of ingestion. Time is crucial in such situations.
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