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Can Hoarding Cause Health Problems?


Can Hoarding Cause Health Problems Graphic

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that needs treatment by a mental health professional. But, hoarding can also cause health problems due to living in unsanitary conditions.


This article will discuss the health hazards in a hoarder's home, the health risks associated with hoarding disorder, the symptoms of hoarding, and how you can help a family member struggling with hoarding.


Internal Health Hazards In A Hoarder's House


There are lots of hazards in a hoarder's home that can result in health problems:


  • Mold: Hoarder houses are ideal environments for mold to grow because of damp conditions and improper ventilation. Mold can cause allergic reactions, breathing problems, and skin irritation.

  • Bacteria: Animal waste, feces, rotting food, and broken plumbing contribute to the spread of harmful bacteria. When infected, a person can experience gastrointestinal issues, like cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Dust and dust mites: Dust mites feed on dust that consists of skin, dander, and natural fibers. These tiny mites trigger allergic reactions and asthma symptoms.

  • Pathogens: Severe medical conditions like staph infections, salmonella, and E. coli can arise from hoarding, especially if there is biohazardous waste. This includes animal and human feces, bodily fluids, and decomposing animal carcasses.

  • Pests: Vermin, insects, and rodents are attracted to the rotting food often found in hoarding homes. Pests spread diseases through their feces. For example, rodent feces can contain listeria or salmonella.

  • No ventilation: Most hoarder houses are so full of clutter that windows and doors can't be reached or opened. This traps pathogens, dust, bacteria, and other pollutants, worsening the respiratory conditions of people with hoarding disorder.


Physical Health Hazards In A Hoarder's House


There are plenty of physical hazards within a hoarder's home that can pose health risks to those living in and entering the house:


  • Fire hazards: Hoarded items can be highly flammable, like chemicals, boxes, and paper products. The more clutter there is, the more difficult it would be to put out a blaze. Lack of maintenance and faulty electrical wiring hiding behind the clutter increases the risk of a fire.

  • Tripping: Walking spaces are limited in a hoarder's home. With clutter almost everywhere, power cords crisscrossing the floor, and boxes in doorways, the risk of tripping and falling is high. This is especially concerning for an elderly hoarder who lives alone. And, should the hoarder fall, emergency services may struggle to reach them.

  • Structural hazards: With a lack of proper maintenance, a hoarder's home can quickly deteriorate. Mold, water damage, pests chewing through walls - these all contribute to the structural failure of the home. Floors and ceilings may collapse, posing a risk to the inhabitants of the home.

  • Animal hoarding: This type of hoarding is very common and poses significant health risks to the person with hoarding disorder. An accumulation of animals in a cluttered home leads to a buildup of feces, rotting food, pet dander, and in severe cases, pet carcasses. These conditions result in bacteria and pathogens in the air, which can infect the hoarder.


Hoarding Health Risks


We've touched on some of these above, but let's discuss the health risks and diseases associated with hoarding disorder.


Disease and illness


Mold, fungus, dust, bacteria, and other microorganisms associated with unclean premises cause respiratory issues - the most common health problem experienced by hoarders.

Feces, urine, and decomposing animal carcasses will also release harmful microorganisms which can pose significant health risks to people living in a hoarding scenario.


Animal and human waste are considered biohazardous materials, and exposure to these can make someone really sick.


Injuries


We've mentioned tripping hazards, but there are many more scenarios in which a hoarder can become injured.


Piles of clutter stacked to the ceiling can topple over, injuring whoever is nearby. There could also be sharp objects hidden amongst all the items, which can cause cuts and infected wounds.


Mental illness


Hoarding disorder is a mental illness, but living in a hoarding situation can worsen mental health problems, like anxiety disorders, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.


Hoarding can also result in social isolation, especially when there is shame attached to the living situation.


Hazardous waste exposure


Hoarders might not realize that there is hazardous waste lurking in between all the clutter. Cleaning agents, toxic substances, and even old paint cans can release harmful chemicals into the air, which can sting the eyes and cause respiratory diseases.


Common Hoarding Symptoms


Since hoarding disorder is a mental disorder, it is important to recognize the symptoms of hoarding. Knowing what the risk factors are will allow you to stop hoarding behaviors in your loved ones before it becomes a large problem.


Often, hoarding disorder occurs after a stressful life event, like a death in the family. However, this is not always the case, and someone with slight hoarding tendencies may worsen over time.


As with other mental disorders, it's not always possible to spot the problems before it is too late.


Here are some early symptoms to look out for:


  • Collecting and keeping items that there's no immediate need for.

  • Persistent difficulty discarding items, no matter the actual value thereof.

  • Getting emotional when having to get rid of items.

  • Building up clutter that covers all surfaces.

  • Struggling to plan or remain organized.

  • Delaying making decisions.

  • Other mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.


How To Help A Hoarder


The first step in helping a hoarder is to contact mental health professionals, like the American Psychiatric Association. They can provide guidance on how to approach the situation or schedule an assessment with the hoarder.


Apart from that, here are some other ways in which you can help a hoarder:


  • Make sure you remain respectful of their possessions. Never refer to it as "junk" or "trash".

  • Ask them how they feel about their living situation, and allow them to attempt to come up with a solution.

  • Don't initiate a full clean-up from the get-go. Start small by suggesting a single room or area be cleared.

  • Don't pressure them to listen to you, and don't force your way into their space.

  • Contact a biohazard decontamination or cleaning company to assist once the hoarder agrees to clean their home.

  • Assure them that you're not judging them and that you simply want to help them.

  • If they're hoarding animals, contact animal welfare agencies for assistance and assure them it's what is best for the animals.

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