Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a disorder that is supposed to be caused by being in a building or other confined environment. The cause of this disorder is thought to be poor indoor air quality. However, the actual reason remains uncertain; according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 30% of new and remodeled buildings have poor indoor air quality.
Identifying SBS is often challenging due to the vast range of symptoms that simulate other ailments, such as the common cold. However, the main feature of SBS is that your symptoms improve once you exit the building in question and return when you reenter the building. Therefore, if you observe recurring symptoms that emerge when you enter a specific building, you may consider looking into sick building syndrome as a possible explanation.
What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?
There is no exact explanation for the cause of sick building syndrome. However, often when symptoms arise and there is no identifiable source of the problem, the phrase sick building syndrome is a phrase that may be used. There are several plausible explanations that you may discuss with your doctor.
SBS’s Causes Might Include:
Contaminants from chemicals
External contaminants can enter a building through improperly situated air intake vents, windows, building exhaust systems, plumbing vents, and other openings; combustion byproducts can infiltrate a building from an adjacent garage. In addition, radon, asbestos, formaldehyde, dust, and lead-based paint may enter through improperly placed air intake vents and other openings.
From indoor sources: Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are the most common indoor air pollutants. VOCs are primarily found in adhesives, upholstery, carpets, copy machines, manufactured wood goods, insecticides, cleaning chemicals, etc. In addition, tobacco smoke, respirable particulate matter, and combustion byproducts from a stove, fireplace, or unvented space heater contribute to chemical pollution. Also, synthetic perfumes and cleaning products contribute to building contamination.
Contaminants of biological origin
Bacteria, fungi, molds, pollen, viruses, and other biological pollutants are examples of biological contaminants. These pollutants can increase in stagnant water that accumulates in carpets, ceiling tiles, drainpipes, ducts, humidifiers, insulation, and upholstery.
The droppings of insects and birds can also be a source of biological pollution. Fever, chills, cough, chest tightness, muscular pains, and allergic responses are all symptoms of biological contamination. In addition, airborne infections can spread quickly from one employee to another in an office with high occupancy. For example, HVAC systems can recycle pathogens, spreading them throughout a building, such as Legionnaire’s disease caused by legionella organisms.
Because of the oil crisis in 1970, building designs were made to be more airtight, to enhance the building’s energy efficiency, which meant there was less exterior air ventilation. The ventilation was cut down to 5 cfm/person. This lowered ventilation rate was insufficient to keep building occupants healthy and comfortable. Inadequate HVAC systems also contribute to indoor air pollution. ASHRAE revised their standards on ventilation to a minimum outdoor airflow rate of 15 cfm/person to help avoid issues associated with poor ventilation and to ensure acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) with minimum energy consumption. The standard is 20 cfm/person in an office setting, while 60 cfm/person in smoking lounges. Inadequate ventilation is also a result of poor building design and construction.
Radiation from electromagnetism
Microwaves, TVs, and computers create electromagnetic radiation that ionizes the air. In addition, extensive wiring that is not correctly grounded also generates strong magnetic fields, which have been linked to cancer.
Factors of Psychology
SBS is frequently related to excessive work stress or discontent, poor interpersonal interactions, and poor communication.
Insufficient Lighting, Poor Acoustics, Poor Ergonomics, and High Levels of Humidity
Because professionals or managers often have better work conditions, symptoms of SBS are more common in individuals with clerical positions than in those with management positions. Additionally, the symptoms are more prevalent in females than males, most likely because more females work in clerical positions, are more health-conscious, or fewer pollutants are necessary to produce the consequences. The symptoms are more prevalent in buildings with air conditioning than in buildings with natural ventilation. Additionally, they are more prevalent in public sector buildings than private ones.
Signs of Sick Building Syndrome?
The cutaneous, respiratory, and neurological systems can all be affected by SBS symptoms. As a result, you may misdiagnose yourself with a cold or the flu. When you see a physician, they will go through a process of elimination to determine the issue. Your physician may also ask questions about your career and personal circumstances. You may consider keeping a notebook to chronicle your symptoms, when and where they appear, and when they disappear. Also, be as precise as possible about your symptoms.
Among the symptoms that might occur are:
- inflammation of the throat
- breathing problems
- chest constriction
- clogged nose
- sneeze and other allergy-like symptoms
- nose-burning feelings
- Rashes on dry, itching skin
- having difficulties concentrating
- Aches and pains in the body
If you have allergies or respiratory disease, your symptoms may be more severe. Asthmatics, for example, might be at a greater risk of asthma episodes as a result of SBS.
It’s also worth noting that SBS affects people differently. For example, some individuals may experience specific symptoms, while others experience entirely different symptoms from being in the same location. Likewise, some individuals may not experience any adverse symptoms. And, others may develop symptoms after leaving the building in question, which might result from repeated or long-term exposure.
How Do You Treat Sick Building Syndrome?
SBS is generally treated by symptom relief while limiting your exposure to the sources of your symptoms.
Itchy eyes, nose, and skin can be relieved with allergy drugs. Over-the-counter medications like Benadryl and Zyrtec are commonly accessible. Wheezing and other breathing issues may necessitate the use of asthma drugs. Long-term drugs, such as leukotriene modifiers, or an inhaler for acute symptoms, may be included.
Employers can also take some actions to prevent SBS. You or your manager may want to think about the following:
- Use cleaning products with minimal fumes and odors.
- To eliminate dust, vacuum regularly.
- Replace air filters every few months (or more, if necessary).
- Find the ideal humidity level – National Asthma Council suggests a 40 to 70 percent humidity level.
- Request a mold or fungus test.
- Update computer displays and other display systems.
- As required, adjust the lighting.
- Consider investing in LED or blue lights to save electricity.
What Are The Chances of Sick Building Syndrome Occurring?
The symptoms of sick building syndrome usually improve as you leave the dangerous building in question. Persistent symptoms improve if you’ve either eliminated your exposure or addressed risks within the building. Clean air is essential, and with long-term exposure to poor indoor air, the chance of lung disorders such as asthma can increase.
Sick Building Syndrome: How to Prevent and Control It
The HVAC system should be built to fulfill local building code ventilation criteria. In addition, the HVAC system must be correctly controlled and maintained to achieve the appropriate ventilation rates. If there are significant contaminants, the air may need to be evacuated straight to the outdoors. This procedure is beneficial for removing contaminants that build in specific areas such as copy rooms, printing facilities, and restrooms. ASHRAE recommends at least 8.4 air exchanges every 24 hours.
Removing and Modifying Pollutant Sources
Routine HVAC maintenance and removing or adjusting pollutant sources should be a priority:
- Replace ceiling tiles and carpets with water stains
- Use stone, ceramic, or hardwood flooring
- Proper waterproofing
- Avoiding treated or synthetic upholstery fabric
- Minimizing the use of electronic devices and unplugging devices, not in use
- Venting contaminants to the outside
- Storing adhesives, paints, pesticides, and solvents in close containers in well-ventilated areas
- Allowing time for new building materials to off-gas pollutants before occupancy
- Smoking restrictions
Cleaning the air can be beneficial to pollution control. Air cleaning may be accomplished by creating uncluttered open office designs, using frosted glass and skylights to allow for natural lighting, terrace gardens, community areas, and indoor plants that collect carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from the air. High-quality air filters are also critical in eliminating some, if not all, contaminants.
Indoor air quality has a significant impact on your staff and building inhabitants health and productivity. To protect their health, it’s a wise decision to do everything you can to prevent sick building syndrome. Choosing the right commercial air filter for your building plays a big role in the quality of air you breathe daily. At Filti, we manufacture high-quality home and commercial air filters to protect against poor indoor air quality. For more information on Filti or to purchase our products, visit our online store. Need help choosing the right product? We are here to answer your questions and to ensure you get the right products for your environment. Contact us today!