Have you ever felt nauseous inside your house and relieved just as you went outside for a break? If you have, you may be experiencing what is called the Sick Building Syndrome.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a condition wherein a person develops respiratory, skin and allergy symptoms when inside a particular building. It often develops as a result of the inadequate ventilation inside the building but it does have other causes. One is usually diagnosed with SBS only after doctors cannot find a specific illness you may have or the cause behind your symptoms.
SBS is different from Building Related Illness (BRI), wherein the symptoms of a person’s illness can be attributed to the airborne contaminants present in a building.
Symptoms for Sick Building Syndrome
The symptoms of Sick building syndrome are mostly skin, respiratory and neurological but, the symptoms differ in type and severity and type from person to person. In most cases, symptoms subside as soon as the person leaves the building. Some common symptoms of people with Sick Building Syndrome are given below:
- Runny or blocked nose
- Throat infection or itching
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Dry, itchy skin
- Dry eyes
- Sore throat
- Difficulty in concentrating
Since the symptoms are very similar to common cold and flu, sick building syndrome becomes difficult to diagnose and you can be diagnosed with sick building syndrome only after other respiratory illnesses are ruled out.
Causes for Sick Building Syndrome
The cause of Sick Building Syndrome is often not precise but most often SBS develops as a result of improper ventilation. Improper ventilation in residential areas, especially our homes, can be the reason behind us developing sick building syndrome as improper ventilation makes it difficult for us to get adequate amounts of outdoor air. Inadequate ventilation also leads to degradation of the indoor air quality in our homes.
To ensure proper ventilation in residential buildings, there are various standards set to specify the amount of outdoor air every person gets. The Bureau of Indian standards’ Code of Practice for Natural Ventilation of Residential buildings recommends having at least 20 to 30 cm3 of outdoor air per person per hour.
There are also a variety of internal and external factors that can influence the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in our homes and can cause SBS. Internal factors, such as adhesives, paints, upholstery, wood products, cleaning agents, can cause the buildup of volatile organic compounds and resident particulate matter inside our homes.
At high concentrations, VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds can cause various acute and chronic health effects, and some of them are carcinogenic. But, at low or moderate concentrations, as are usually found in our homes, VOCs can cause symptoms of sick building syndrome and even lead to long-term effects.
Resident particulate matter, also believed to be a cause of sick building syndrome, refers to the small particles in the air that can remain suspended in the air for a long time and cause irritation in the respiratory airways.
VOCs and resident particulate matter can also enter our homes from outdoor sources, such as vents, chimneys, air filters and HVAC units.
Since poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a major cause of SBS, it is a great idea to go for air testing. And if you are concerned about the indoor air quality in your house, we at Prewell Labs can assist you by testing the indoor air for harmful gases and humidity levels. We also provide consultations according to your test results to help you further. Send us a message and we will hop on a call to answer all your questions about the testing!
Prevention of for Sick Building Syndrome
The poor indoor air quality, which often gives rise to sick building syndrome, most often comes to the forefront only after you are diagnosed with the condition. This makes prevention from sick building syndrome very difficult.
But there exist ways that you can follow to reduce your chances of developing any symptoms of SBS. We recommend the following:
- taking frequent strolls outside your house
- taking a break from working on the computer every few hours
- frequently opening your windows to allow proper ventilation
- reducing the number of items that release VOCs
- getting your vents, air filters and HVAC cleaned regularly
- checking your house for any molds or fungus
- maintaining the humidity levels in your house in between 40-70%
Treatment for Sick Building Syndrome
The treatment for Sick Building Syndrome primarily aims to alleviate the symptoms of the person with the condition. Often, people diagnosed with SBS are prescribed allergy and asthma medications for their symptoms, but the prescription depends on your symptoms. If your symptoms are not very severe, leaving your building/house once every few hours can help the symptoms subside. To ensure that the symptoms don’t arise again, you can check EPA’s Indoor Air Factsheet, which suggests several solutions for the workspace which you can use at your home.