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Sick building syndrome: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and prevention

A women seems sick on a workspace


“Sick building syndrome” or “SBS” refers to situations in which building residents experience severe effects related to their health and comfort that seem like they may be related to the duration spent in a building without any particular illness or cause being identified. For example, the issues might be limited to a specific room or zone or extended to the whole building. In contrast, when symptoms of diagnosable problems and illnesses are identified and can be directly pointed to airborne building contaminants and the lack of air security, the term “building-related illness” or “BRI” is used.
A World Health Organization Committee report from 1984 shows that up to 30% of new and remodelled buildings worldwide might be the topic of excessive complaints concerning indoor air quality or IAQ. This condition is generally short-term, but some buildings have long-term issues. Issues typically arise when a building is managed or kept in a way that conflicts with its initial design or prescribed operating procedures. Occasionally, indoor air problems are also because of bad building designs, lack of proper air filtration causing low air quality standards, or the activities of the residents.


  • Building residents report symptoms associated with severe uneasiness, such as headaches, irritation in the eyes or nose, sore throats, dry coughs, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea, concentration difficulties, lethargy, and odour sensitivity.
  • The majority of the complainants expressed feeling relieved shortly after leaving the building. However, there is a possibility that residual effects of the neurotoxins take place. This might be because of being exposed for a longer duration of time.
  • It is furthermore worth mentioning that the effects of SBS differ from person to person. While some of the above symptoms may be experienced by everyone who spends time in a specific location, they can vary.


One of the commonly mentioned explanations is a lack of ventilation. Before the 1970s energy crisis, most buildings were not as tightly sealed and circulated air more frequently. Buildings were made more energy efficient after the energy crisis by sealing up areas where air leaked into or out of the building. Furthermore, airflow in many buildings was reduced from 15 cubic ft per minute to 5 cubic ft per minute. However, multiple countries are making changes to this. For instance, to avoid the problems linked to insufficient ventilation, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently revamped ventilation guidelines to a minimum outdoor air flow rate of 15 cfm/person.
  • Inside buildings, traditional chemical contaminants that could cause SBS to include carpeting, adhesives, upholstered furniture and cleaning agents. These chemicals have the potential to release volatile organic compounds or VOCs.
  • Poorly maintained air conditioning systems, fumes from smoking tobacco, and high levels of dust.
  • Mould, fungus, asbestos, droppings of animals and insects.
  • Poorly designed layout, such as cramped spaces.
  • Emissions from automobiles and other industrial sites are examples of traditional chemical contaminants found outside the building.


Since SBS encompasses a variety of symptoms that are not specific, the diagnosis for it is an elimination-based procedure. Other conditions that may mimic SBS symptoms, such as a cold, asthma, or allergies, will be ruled out by your doctor. They will also inquire about your work and the environment in your house.
You could maintain a diary to document your symptoms. It would be helpful to make a note of when and where they appear and disappear. Also, be as precise as possible about your symptoms.


  • Home air filters should be cleaned frequently and replaced if necessary.
  • Methods such as installing air purifiers or dust purifiers must be implemented to prevent air pollution.
  • Besides purifiers, other useful products can improve your home’s air quality standards, such as air sanitiser machines, air quality sensors and ionisers.
  • Installing a car air purifier or an air cleanser for your car would also help.
  • To ensure maximum safety, air security devices can be installed in your workspaces. The latest trends in science and technology have ensured that there are several mini gadgets that are inconspicuous and can be installed easily.

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