What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick building syndrome refers to adverse health and comfort symptoms that seem to be linked to the individual’s time spent inside a certain building. The symptoms may occur when the person occupies one particular room or location within the building or may be present whenever the person occupies any area of the building. In many cases, more than one person who regularly visits the building begins to show symptoms categorized as sick building syndrome. In most cases, the symptoms subside after leaving the building.

Increased Occurrence of Sick Building Syndrome

The occurrence of sick building syndrome has been increasing in recent years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90 percent of time indoors. This average is even greater for those at the highest risk for adverse effects associated with air pollutants, such as the elderly, the very young, and those with decreased immune systems.

Sick Building Syndrome Causes

While the exact causes of sick building syndrome may vary, the following factors are often attributed to the development of symptoms:

  • Outdoor air pollutants entering the building
  • Indoor pollutants from within the building
  • Mold
  • Bacteria
  • Insufficient ventilation

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome

The most common symptoms associated with sick building syndrome include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory complications
  • Eyes that are itchy, red, and watery
  • Itchy skin
  • Irritation of the mucous membranes

Effects and Complications

The effects of sick building syndrome may vary based on the building found to be causing symptoms and the individual reaction. When sick building syndrome affects school children, evidence shows it may have adverse effects on attendance and performance. When sick building syndrome is present in workplaces, it may have an effect on productivity, employee morale, turnover, and the use of sick days. If a home is found to cause sick building syndrome, the residents may visit physicians more frequently, miss school or work more often, and eventually either move or begin renovations to resolve the health and comfort issues.

Prevention and Air Quality

If a number of employees at a workplace or students at a school seem to be suffering from sick building syndrome, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health may be able to perform a Health Hazard Evaluation to pinpoint risk factors and possible causes.

It’s important to remember that the answer to solving existing indoor air quality issues is not ventilation alone but most importantly identifying and getting rid of the source of indoor pollutants, mold, bacteria, etc.