Do You Have Sick Building Syndrome?

Do You Have Sick Building Syndrome?

You might feel sick for no reason. This is a frustrating challenge especially when you try to remedy your symptoms through medical intervention which finds nothing wrong with you. Yet, each day you go to work or spend time at home you present with a variety of symptoms that range from annoying to painful. Yet, when you leave the space your symptoms rapidly diminish.

Living and/or working in an urban environment may be exposing you to a condition called sick building syndrome (SBS). This condition has shown to be a valid, relatable affliction even when no pinpointed source can be found.

If you spend time in an apartment or office building and have health issues that cannot be explained, you could have sick building syndrome.

WHO Labeled It

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 1984 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the condition ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS). Originally described as “office illness,” SBS is the result of a negative health response presented by an occupant or occupants only when in a specific building space.

Once the term SBS was backed by the WHO other factors regarding human response to living or working among a long list of toxic materials where taken into consideration. As a result, in addition to SBS, the term building related illness (BRI) has also been added to the list of potential adverse health causes associated with living in a building structure. As SBS has no known cause, just possible risks that can be addressed, BRI is a direct link to a building threat responsible for specific conditions.

SBS Symptoms

The difficulty with determining if you may be suffering from SBS is that there is no way to definitively test it. Symptoms can be associated with many other ailments as they fall into a highly generalized category. Regardless, many practitioners feel that reasonable deduction could narrow down to a SBS diagnosis and recommend some ways to fix it.

As reported by the EPA, chronic symptoms associated with SBS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Sensitivity to odors
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation

Tainted Air

The ventilation systems in old buildings can be a significant threat to the health of residents. However, even new building air circulation can be just as much a risk as well.

The EPA reported that,

“30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ).”

After being checked and cleared by your doctor, if you think you suffer from SBS the first place to start is the air ventilation system. Your building could be circulating air that is tainted in some way and you may be having a daily, sensitive reaction such as eye irritation, respiratory challenges, headaches and more. If these reactions immediately lift once you leave the building, this could be an indication of SBS.

Have the building assure you of its filter change protocol as well as the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-condition) unit maintenance history. Also, installing some in-office/home air filter units could help significantly.

The WHO guidelines for the management of building ventilation systems are:

  • The building and its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems should not produce biological contaminants which are introduced into the ventilation air. If biocides are unavoidable, they should be prevented from entering space which can be occupied.
  • Standards and building codes should ensure effective maintenance of ventilation systems by specifying adequate access paths, regular inspection, and maintenance schedules.
  • In a building, in which occupants cannot effectively control the quality of ventilation air, an individual who is responsible for this task should be identified to the occupants.
  • The maintenance personnel of public and office buildings should be given adequate training for routine inspection and maintenance for the building systems.

Artificial Lighting

SBS can sometimes be linked to inadequate or excessive artificial lighting. Many times lack of light can strain eyesight, cause headaches and result in fatigue. However, too much light, especially bright white light, can result in these same symptoms, plus more. Others include bright light confusion, stress and auditory sensitivity to high pitched sounds which could emit from old and even some new light ballasts (current regulators).

Natural light is always the best option, especially if the above symptoms are occurring. Look for

ways to diffuse natural light sources into a home or especially an office setting. There are also more natural, light friendly bulb choices that eliminate harsh or minimal artificial lighting.

Mold, Bacteria, Chemical Contaminants

Another source of SBS and BRI could be stationary or circulating mold, bacteria or chemical contaminants. For most people in the space these contaminants may not be a problem but for some, especially those with sensitive systems, it could be a challenge.

Contaminants can be inconspicuously prevalent (hidden behind walls, ceilings, under carpets, etc). A professional service could be employed to search for these possible SBS or BRI mold, bacteria or chemical sources. They can also be manually cleaned, avoided or minimized using an air filter.


If you have sick building syndrome or building related illness you can try some of these fixes to see if there is improvement. If nothing helps and you still feel sick when in a particular building it may be recommended that you avoid this location altogether. This may involve the enormous decision to move your residence or leave your job. However, in the long run, it is your optimal health that is the most important decision in the end.