In recent years, we have seen an increase in the data gathered on sick building syndrome (SBS) and what was once regarded as a conspiracy theory, has proven to be true. This term was first coined back in the 80s by the World Health Organization (WHO) and it refers to the effects of enclosed spaces on the people that occupy them. Many people succumb to health and comfort problems that can be linked to SBS caused by exposure to indoor airborne contaminants. Data released by the WHO has shown that around 30% of remodeled and brand new buildings have poor indoor air quality (IAQ). In this article, we will take a closer look at SBS, poor IAQ and how you can deal with these problems.

What is SBS?

The effects of SBS can be directly correlated to the IAQ and yet the causes of this syndrome are still largely understood. One of the main causes of this failure to identify the nature of SBS fully is that human beings are hard to quantify when it comes to illnesses. This may seem strange, after all, a visit to a doctor can diagnose pretty much any ailment in the modern world. But, many illnesses and diseases have overlapping symptoms that are difficult to place in context when applied to multiple people occupying a building of any size. In fact, the only real difference that can be applied to SBS is the frequency of its occurrence. When people spend time in a building prone to this phenomenon, they may feel ill and yet when they leave they tend to feel much better. If recurring symptoms of illness are experienced in this manner, it’s a good idea to check with other people to see if they are affected in the same way.

What are the Symptoms of SBS?

There may be people in the building that are ill, but the cause may be something else entirely and certain criteria must be met to link their illness to SBS. Over time, a significant amount of data has been gathered on this topic and there are many symptoms that can indicate SBS. But, exhibiting just one of the symptoms is not sufficient evidence and multiple symptoms experienced at the same time is more compelling. This should be coupled with fast recovery that occurs when the building has been vacated. In no particular order, the most common SBS symptoms, include sneezing, coughing, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, eye irritation, teary eyes, dizziness, migraines, dry skin, itching, sore throat, allergic reactions, flu-like symptoms, a cold and dry nasal passages.

Some other less common symptoms can include a loss of concentration, sensitivity to smells and losing one’s voice. A combination of these wide ranging symptoms should be enough to prove that this is not some kind of seasonal ailment. As the name suggests, these symptoms are experienced inside the building and exposure to fresh air upon leaving may alleviate the problems.

How is SBS Diagnosed?

Identifying the common and not so common symptoms shown earlier is only the initial step in a diagnosis of SBS exposure. Further investigation often reveals that the symptoms are only present when in the building and that the severity increases during longer periods of exposure. In this way, the link between SBS can be made and this can be confirmed if other people are experiencing similar health issues. But, this can be a lengthy process, other factors must be eliminated to be sure that SBS is the real cause. Some possible causes of SBS-like symptoms could include a seasonal illness, side-effects of prescribed medications, illicit drug use, and more. But, if these are not a factor and the previously discussed criteria are consistent then SBS may be the cause.

What Causes SBS?

There isn’t one singular cause of SBS and it’s better to think of SBS as an amalgam of conditions that have deteriorated the indoor comfort levels for the occupants. The most important aspect of SBS seems to be tied to a lack of fresh air, which may be caused by a number of factors, including bad building design, poor ventilation, overcrowding, poor HVAC maintenance, and bad airflow. When these factors are not recognized and fixed for long periods of time, they can cause significant discomfort. In a business, they can lead to a lack of motivation, fuzzy thinking, sick days, and a drop in productivity. To a certain extent, these factors can affect a residential home too and the inability to relax would lead to a drop in the quality of life.

What About IAQ?

As we mentioned earlier, poor IAQ can certainly be linked to SBS and bad quality air is extremely unhealthy. When a building has poor ventilation it can lead to more serious health problems, including bacteria, viruses, and mold growth. Poor quality air may contain high levels of airborne pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), dust, and pollen that can trigger allergic reactions. A study conducted by the Encyclopedia of Environmental Health estimated that the annual loss in revenue caused by SBS is around $15-40 billion!

What Can I Do to Fix the Problem?

Some immediate steps that you can take to fix your SBS problem are pretty simple to implement and relatively inexpensive. First, make sure that every room gets adequate ventilation even if this means cracking open a window for 10 minutes of each hour. Cut down on the number of harsh cleaning products you may be using that can contain chemicals that lower the IAQ. If you have older furnishings and floor coverings, consider an upgrade to newer and more environmentally friendly alternatives.

For a more lasting solution, schedule some essential cleaning and maintenance for your HVAC system. The indoor air is recycled through the heating and cooling system multiple times each day. The airborne pollutants are often deposited in the air filters and these must be cleaned or replaced regularly. There may be mold growing inside the ductwork and this must be cleaned away to prevent the circulation of toxic mold spores. Finally, consider an air purification system for your building to improve the IAQ. If you want to learn more about dealing with SBS, contact your local HVAC specialist today.