Sick Building Syndrome: Testing, Treatment & Prevention
Modern society has culturally evolved to spend most of their time indoors. From routine activities such as cooking, working, reading, watching a movie, exercising, swimming, and even gardening, humans have adapted to live almost entirely within closed spaces. There are several benefits from this: climate control, isolation from weather changes, illumination control, and others. However, all the activities carried out indoors release particles, fumes, and gases that can become harmful. Moreover, if left untreated, these minor contaminants can accumulate, concentrating in the air, depositing on surfaces, and leading to what is known as the Sick Building Syndrome.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is the name given to illnesses caused by being physically present in a building. In other words, when healthy individuals show signs of disease by merely entering a specific structure but recover shortly after leaving it, it is considered that the building is the leading cause of their sickness. The reason and means by which the building can harm the individual are various, and they can represent a risk to short and long-term health.
SBS can sometimes be confused with allergies, dehydration, malnutrition, and others. The critical distinction to this condition is that the symptoms predominantly begin when inside the building and fade away once you leave the installation. Nearly 30% of new and remodeled facilities are considered to have poor design and indoor air quality, which favor SBS development.
How to identify Sick Building Syndrome?
SBS can go unnoticed for several months as the primary symptoms for this condition are commonly mistaken with allergies, dehydration, malnutrition, cold, or flu. The SBS affects the skin, respiratory, and neurological systems, causing several forms of irritation and allergic reaction. The most common symptoms noticed with SBS are irritation of the respiratory system, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, irritated skin, headaches, coughing, chills, dizziness, rashes, etc.
SBS is particularly harmful to individuals that are especially sensitive to these reactions, such as those who already present allergic reactions to dust, mold, fungus, and asthma. Moreover, individuals who fall into the category of sensitivity to the effect of allergies are considered to be specifically susceptible to developing severe illnesses from SBS, such as elders and children.
What are the common causes of Sick Building Syndrome?
SBS is caused due to contaminants that are released indoor and accumulate throughout time, reaching dangerous levels. These can be found due to poor ventilation, cleaning, temperature, and humidity adjustment. Overall, SBS is promoted by:
- Poor temperature regulation in the building
- High level of particles
- Poor ventilation
- High level of humidity
- Tobacco smoking indoors
- Cooking with low ventilation
- Carbon monoxide indoors
- Presence of molds and fungus.
The most common cause of SBS is the presence of molds and fungus proliferating through the building. Molds tend to proliferate in damp and humid areas, which allow for their ideal conditions of survival. More concerningly, mold and fungus can grow extensively without being detected inside walls, under carpets, on ceilings, behind wallpaper, and others. Mold is mostly only detected indoors when it has reached dangerous levels and is detected visually or by its typical odor.
Why does mold cause Sick Building Syndrome?
Molds are tiny organisms that feed on organic matter. Most precisely, they are a tinny multicellular fungus that exists in almost every environment. Some of these molds procreate based on the release of spores, which have several properties to ensure their survival. On the other hand, spores can cause several allergic reactions in humans leading to the symptoms pointed out in SBS. Regardless, the indoor air quality is directly affected by the presence of molds, and their spread can induce one of the triggers that culminate in SBS. Short-term exposure to mold causes coughing, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Long-term exposure causes disorientation, slowed reflexes, numbness, memory problems, depression, and even coma.
Overall, the presence of mold in the environment cause irritations that vary from mild skin rashes to severe causes of loss of consciousness. The species and concentration of mold in the building are a crucial factor and determine the severity of the effects seen. In other words, some molds are very toxic, and even low concentrations can harm humans. Different molds are less harmful, and only in higher concentrations do they affect human health.
Determining if your building has mold and what kind of mold is present is a vital step in preventing the development of SBS. However, since molds have the potential of being highly toxic, it is essential to reach out to professional cleaning and disinfection services to locate and identify the mold present in your building.
How to prevent Sick Building Syndrome?
SBS can be caused by the presence of molds, dust, pollution, and chemical contamination inside your building. Some of the common causes of SBS, such as the presence of asbestos or pesticides indoor, are easy to identify. Meanwhile, other causes are harder to pinpoint. In particular, molds’ presence can be hard to identify due to the nature of mold colonies. Mostly, they grow in the dark, dampened spaces, out of sight. Hence, linking SBS to the presence of molds can be challenging, and solving SBS can also be very difficult if the correct promoters are not identified.
Therefore, once a building is suspected of having SBS, it is essential to layout a couple of procedures to clarify the reasons and solutions for the poor indoor air quality found. Initially, it is vital to create a standard report on the forms of illnesses reported. These might indicate what form of contamination is located indoors. Repeated reports of allergies and rashes can be commonly caused by dust and spores linked to poor ventilation. Meanwhile, dizziness, headaches, and loss of memory are frequently linked to carbon monoxide contamination. Finally, further respiratory problems, which include lack of breath, chest pain, and irritation in the nose and throat, are commonly associated with the spores of certain mold species.
Further, proper evaluation of indoor air quality considering the level of particulates, risk chemicals, toxins, humidity, temperature, and ventilation should be carried out, ensuring the adequate renovation of air mass indoors as recommended by specialized institutions. Poor circulation of air through contaminated HVACs (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems is a common cause for the incidence of SBS. At this point, the help of professional indoor air quality companies is recommended as an evaluation of correct indoor air quality requires trained personnel, appropriate technology, and personal protection equipment.
Finally, depending on what causes the SBS in your specific building, several measures can be taken into account to improve the indoor air quality and reduce the incidence of illness associated with that closed environment. Among the most common recommendations to prevent Sick Building Syndrome are:
- Improve air circulation in the area
- Adjust air humidity to adequate levels
- Carry out the removal of molds and fungus present in the environment
- Remove points of contamination of pesticides and chemicals
- Install exhaustion systems in kitchens and bathrooms
- Repair and maintain HVAC regularly
- Correct the temperature variations throughout the building that might cause damp areas.
- Locate and solve points of leakage in pipes and roofs.
- Remove toxic chemicals from the building, such as asbestos.
- Ban indoor smoking.
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