What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) refers to the ill health that results from spending long periods of time in tightly sealed, poorly ventilated buildings. Starting in the 1970s, in an effort to become energy-efficient, new buildings were designed to be more airtight, resulting in decreased ventilation and increased exposure to indoor chemical pollutants.
This, in turn, began causing health problems for people working and living in those buildings and the term Sick Building Syndrome was coined. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 1984 that up to 30% of new buildings might cause serious illness and many of these buildings are still causing health problems today.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome
People generally report one or more common symptoms related to Sick Building Syndrome, such as:
- throat irritation
- itchy and watery eyes
- blurred vision
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- dry, itchy skin
- sinus congestion
- sneezing and coughing
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms may also be caused by other health issues such as the common cold or flu, making it difficult to diagnose Sick Building Syndrome as the cause and is often dismissed as simply catching a “bug.” But if your colleagues are experiencing similar issues then it’s a good idea to look into the problem. One clue to a diagnosis is if the symptoms occur when spending time in a specific building and subside upon leaving the building.
Identifying the Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
Buildings contain many different materials and furnishings, some of which can cause adverse effects to the occupants’ health. Common contaminants responsible for Sick Building Syndrome include:
- cigarette smoke
- dust mites
- synthetic insulation
- synthetic furniture fibres
- synthetic carpet off-gassing
- pet dander
- paint fumes
- natural gas
- mold and mildew
- toxic cleaning agents
- carbon monoxide
Finding the sources of SBS can be difficult as they vary greatly from building to building.
How to Fix the Problem
Since the ‘70s and ‘80s, awareness has spread about this health threat and solutions have been developed to address the problem.
The first step is to thoroughly investigate the air ventilation system and make sure it’s working properly. Check the filtration systems, change the filters regularly and establish that there’s proper air distribution.
Avoid toxic deodorizers and cleaning products, and ensure that some of the windows can be opened for ventilation when required. Many common household plants absorb toxins from the air. Sometimes it’s just that simple. But if the problem persists, consider getting help from a qualified air quality professional.