Do you experience a general sick feeling when located in a particular building? And does this last only as long as you are in or near that building? Then it could be sick building syndrome that’s causing this. Read on to know what the sick building syndrome symptoms are.
Sick building syndrome is a broad concept that manifests itself through a wide range of symptoms, from mild illnesses to severe health disorders. Something as common as headache or body pain can be a sick building syndrome symptom while something as severe as a respiratory disorder or even heart problems might indicate SBS. Sick building syndrome or SBS is precisely a combination of health disorders that are experienced when in or near a particular building or premises. That is why the name, ‘sick building’ syndrome.
Simply put, sick building syndrome is a feeling of sickness associated with a particular building, which means, its symptoms are observed only when located inside or in the vicinity of that building. These symptoms occur only during the time spent in the ‘sick’ building and usually disappear when away from it. It’s common to see occupants of that building experience similar symptoms. As these symptoms are quite generic, it becomes difficult to diagnose the health condition. However, when the symptoms are temporally related to the time period spent in a particular building and when similar symptoms are observed in others occupying the same building, they can be termed as symptoms of sick building syndrome.
Most SBS symptoms are attributed to pollutants or contaminants present in the ‘sick’ building. Presence of certain chemicals, especially in chemical factories or industries dealing with the manufacture of chemical products can lead to upper respiratory symptoms like irritation of nose and throat, cough and increased sensitivity to odors. Those coming in contact with the chemicals are likely to experience skin symptoms like itchiness and allergies from the chemical substances. These symptoms can also arise from the presence of pollutant gases in air. Less oxygen in the air or lack of fresh air in general can lead to problems in breathing, another common symptom. Sick building syndrome symptoms include an unexplained sick feeling and dull mood, which can be attributed to lack of cleanliness and hygiene in the building and its surrounding environment. Let us look at the various symptoms of sick building syndrome in detail.
Dry, itchy skin is the most commonly observed symptom of SBS. In case of exposure to harmful chemicals or air or water pollutants, individuals allergic to these or individuals with a sensitive skin, suffer from skin rashes and allergies. Itchy pimples and hives are other common skin symptoms of SBS, that are the result of an allergic reaction to chemical pollutants present in and around the building. Chemical products like paints, adhesives, building materials and cleansers can causes skin rashes and allergies. Tar, coal and metals like arsenic are carcinogenic and continuous exposure to these can lead to skin cancer. Direct contact with harmful chemicals and contaminated workpieces can also lead to skin disorders. This occurs in buildings that house chemical plants or industries dealing with processes requiring such chemical substances. Skin symptoms of SBS are observed in people who come in contact with chemicals or contaminants in the building, on a daily basis or for a prolonged period of time. Exposure to harmful chemicals also leads to hair loss, another common symptom of sick building syndrome.
Upper respiratory symptoms of SBS include burning and watering of eyes and nose, itchy and sore throat, burning in the trachea and problems in breathing. Exposure to pollutants in air can lead to these respiratory symptoms. Lack of proper ventilation and monitoring of air temperature and pressure in the building environment, also leads to breathing problems. Presence of pollutants in air can lead to asthma symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath. Presence of soot, fiber particles or dust may give rise to breathing disorders. Air pollution can lead to upper respiratory symptoms like coughing and burning eyes. Very low temperature and less humidity in air may lead to dry cough. Lead and other metal particles are found in air near smelting industries. Occupants of buildings in the vicinity of smelters or manufacturing industries experience lung disorders arising from the presence of metal particles in air. Sensitivity to odors is also one of the most common sick building syndrome symptoms.
SBS Symptoms Affecting Mental State
Irritability, depression and mood swings are observed in people suffering from sick building syndrome. Drop in the quality of air due to presence of dust and other pollutants is one reason behind this. Feeling tired even after little or routine activity, and in some cases, even chronic fatigue are other symptoms of sick building syndrome. Tremors are also experienced by people suffering from sick building syndrome, which can be the result of stress or physical weakness. Heart palpitation is another symptom that leads to a feeling of discomfort. Sick building syndrome affects one’s general sense of well-being. One feels dull, depressed, exhausted and experiences a lack of enthusiasm for unexplained reasons. Feelings of irritability and stress can also lead to inability to concentrate, which is another sick building syndrome symptom. Physical as well as mental fatigue, body ache and an overall sick feeling, are other symptoms, which have a negative effect on one’s sense of well-being.
Headache, nausea, nosebleeds, dizziness and loss of balance are some of the other symptoms of SBS. Body ache or pain and swelling in the joints are also commonly observed. In some cases, weight gain of up to 30lbs is experienced. Certain pollutants, for example lead, reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of blood, in turn leading to health disorders like anemia or even cancer. Skin conditions resulting from sick building syndrome range from mild rashes to skin cancer. Similarly respiratory symptoms range from minor cough and shortness of breath to severe lung disorders. Edema (swelling) and neuropathy (feeling of numbness) are also symptoms of sick building syndrome.
It’s strange to see such a wide variety in the symptoms of sick building syndrome. Also their severity levels vary widely. Another important characteristic of these symptoms is that they are mostly temporary and occur only when in the sick building. They disappear once a person is away from the building. Naturally there is no one specific sick building syndrome treatment. The treatments are symptomatic, which means each of the different symptoms are treated differently. However precautionary measures like periodic assessment of the quality of air, water and general environment of the building need to be taken by the building authorities. Also regular checks to detect sick building syndrome patients if any, should be conducted by the authorities.
Leaving the sick building is the only complete cure for sick building syndrome. In case any of the symptoms persist even when away from the sick building, they cannot be attributed to SBS, and thus, it is important to seek medical attention to diagnose the actual condition causing them.