We all know that people can get sick, and it’s usually easy to see from a range of symptoms and them feeling worse for wear.
However, did you know that buildings could also develop sickness that affects its inhabitants, much like we experience illness ourselves?
Sick building syndrome is a broad term used to describe medical and health issues that occur when time is spent in said building, ranging in severity and symptoms for each individual.
Among its contributors, mold is one of the biggest problems and an issue that many average households and workplaces deal with today.
How do you detect and fix sick building syndrome
Sick building syndrome may affect a singular room or an entire zone, with the most obvious symptom being the sick people that inhabit it. Otherwise, it can be detected with things like air quality monitors and expert inspections for cases of mold, so there are a few options for how to find it.
We want to be sure the homes we’re living in are as healthy and safe as possible for everyone concerned, with the presence of mold and other contaminants threatening this.
This guide can show you everything you need to know about sick building syndrome, how to spot it, how to treat it, and where mold comes into the equation, giving you the best possible place to call home.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a general term used to describe situations where people living, working, or spending short amounts of time in a building experience health issues.
This could include their physical wellbeing or even general levels of discomfort, and issues that can affect mental wellness, too.
Any size home can be affected with SBS and it can also be used to describe just one room or zone of a building.
Whenever someone has spent time in that building and experiences a range of symptoms or health complaints where there appears to be no other cause, it could be contributed to a case of sick building syndrome.
Usually, SBS refers to an issue with a structure or how it’s used that leads to the problem, but it’s common today to find that homes have received the label as well. When the indoor air quality is poor because of factors like mold and other toxic chemicals, many of the same symptoms apply.
One of the biggest problems with identifying and diagnosing sick building syndrome is that there are so many symptoms, many of which can be linked to other illnesses and conditions.
However, by assessing whether these symptoms improve once leaving the area or home, it’s a good indication that something is causing the problem there.
What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?
There is a range of problems behind sick building syndrome, and these can strike residential homes, offices, and larger workspaces. Included in the causes of this condition are:
- Tobacco smoke
- Mold and mildew
- Carbon monoxide
- Animal droppings
- Chemicals from cleaning products
- Poor ventilation
- Excess or low heat
Although more common in older buildings, sick building syndrome isn’t something that just strikes older structures, though it does seem to happen more frequently in those built before the 1990s.
This is because many of the building practices and materials used back then are now found to be hazardous to humans, and the fact that there simply wasn’t enough fresh air being let in.
When the first energy crisis stuck in the 1970s, it was common to build homes and workplaces with an aim of minimizing heat and cold. Therefore, double and triple pane windows, heavy insulation, and building wraps were all popular methods used in construction, which led to a restrictive airflow inside.
In addition to the buildings themselves, many of the interior items like carpets, walls, and paints were discovered to be hazardous, including off-gassing fumes and releasing chemicals and volatile organic compounds into the air we breathe.
When this was combined with a poorly ventilated space, the issues became more prominent, and not only were people inhaling these substances, but also more likely to create mold and mildew because of the damp conditions.
The Role of Mold in SBS
When it comes to sick building syndrome, mold is one issue commonly associated with it. Although there is some debate over what constitutes SBS whether it’s the house structure itself or what’s done inside of it, what is known is that the presence of mold is an established cause of human disease.
Various types of mold can exist in the average household, and the three main pathogenic mechanisms it causes are toxicity, infection, and allergy.
For those who are sensitive to allergens or have other medical conditions, the presence of this mold can be more than just a nuisance; it can cause many serious side effects.
When mold is present in a home, its spores can travel through the air. These are ingested, consumed, and sit on the skin, causing a range of health problems including irritated eyes, coughing, sneezing, asthma, and more.
If you’re trying to establish the health of a home and its indoor air quality, looking at the presence of mold is crucial.
Signs That Your Home Has SBS
Sick building syndrome can be hard to detect through the usual medical channels, as there’s no specific testing that can diagnose it, so health professionals instead treat the individual symptoms.
If you think your home is suffering from poor indoor air quality or SBS, these are some of the side effects to look out for:
- Scratchy or irritated throat
- Breathing difficulties or tightness in the chest
- Dizzy spells
- Itchy and irritable skin rashes
- Sneezing and runny nose
- Foggy brain, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating
- Body aches or chills
- Fever or fluctuating body temperatures
- Nausea, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal issues
As this is an issue that involves a home or workspace, you might notice that the symptoms come on more aggressively when you arrive there, and lessen as you leave. They can also be aggravated during seasons when heating and cooling systems are in use, as this relies on recirculated air.
How to Monitor Air Quality at Home
As homeowners, it’s our responsibility to monitor the air quality of our homes, to ensure a safe and healthy space for our family.
There are a few things you can do to test the quality of the air in your house, and some that can be used regularly to ensure you’re always monitoring it.
Hire an air quality professional
These are trained experts that can come into a home or building and run diagnostic tests on the quality of the air and surrounding environment.
It’s advisable to enlist the services of one of these professionals at first to give you a good understanding of your living conditions.
Invest in an air quality monitor
Having your own air quality monitor can be a lifesaver and give you peace of mind that things are always in order. These monitors can detect various things in the air like particles, radon, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals and pollutants.
They can run autonomously each day and will alert you to any changes you need to be aware of.
Use an air purifier
An air purifier can be installed at home to continuously filter the air you breathe and live in, and then expel cleaner air.
They come in a range of sizes and with varying features, depending on how much filtration you require and what kind of space you live in.
Monitor health symptoms
Getting a baseline on yourself and your family member’s health status is a good way to make sure everyone is healthy and your home is as well.
If anybody starts to experience symptoms related to SBS, you can perform an in-depth check to see what might be causing it.
How to Detect Mold in Your House
Unlike some other chemicals and pollutants, mold can be easier to detect on your own.
The presence of mold is usually determined by a smell at first, and it can be similar to a damp forest, old socks, or wet clothes, with people noticing different aromas and having their own reactions to it.
Mold might also be visually present, and you can find it anywhere in the home including on walls, in the roof, and most commonly in areas where moisture is present, like the bathroom and laundry. Mold has the appearance of black and grey spots, but because of the many species of it, the look of it can differ.
Sometimes, you might not even realize there’s mold in your house, which is where an expert’s opinion can be useful.
Having a mold specialist perform an inspection in your home or workplace is the best way to guarantee you’ve targeted the problem, and they can also help you come up with solutions to remove it entirely.
Health Impacts of SBS and Mold
When left to their own devices, issues like mold, asbestos, and chemical paint can lead to serious health impacts. Some people will live or work for years in a home or building that has these problems, and not even realize that they’re the cause of their medical problems.
The most obvious health issues are the symptoms you experience when exposed to them like irritable eyes, sneezing, and coughing, but for some, it can be serious.
Prolonged exposure to mold and other pollutants can cause life threatening problems, secondary infections, and even be linked to serious side effects like depression, insomnia, and memory loss.
Dealing with sick building syndrome affects each person differently, and for those who are immune-compromised or already have conditions like asthma, it can be a lot worse.
Therefore, treating it as the serious issue that it is will be crucial for the health of everyone involved, even if your symptoms appear relatively mild compared to someone else’s.
How to Get Rid of Sick Building Syndrome
To effectively rid your home of sick building syndrome and make for a healthier and safer living environment, there are a few steps to take.
Follow these recommendations to ensure you’re living in the safest and cleanest space possible, for you and your family.
Reduce your exposure
The first thing you’ll need to do is remove yourself from the room, home, or building that is making you sick.
It may take time to remove the pollution, so this is the most important step that must be done right away. Seal off the bedroom, stay with a friend or relative, and do whatever you can to avoid it until it’s been fixed.
Once you’ve reduced your exposure to the problem, do what you can to treat your symptoms with the help of a health professional.
This could include taking an antihistamine to reduce allergic reactions, relying on your asthma inhaler more frequently, and treating rashes according to medical advice.
Take a look around the home and figure out what could be causing these issues. This sometimes requires expert help, and will usually be more than just one source of pollution.
Ventilation is key to improving indoor air quality and ridding your home of the pollutants that were making everyone sick.
Take a look in each room of the house to see how you could improve ventilation, including installing windows, updating insulation, new heating and cooling systems, and having smart glass or smart windows installed instead.
Use an indoor air quality monitor to give you continuous updates on the health of your home and schedule a regular appointment with a professional who can provide an in depth check.
By getting on top of the issues before they cause serious side effects, you’ll ensure nobody in your home has to suffer again.
The Best Treatments to Remove Mold
Mold is one of the most common allergens and pollutants that a home can have, and is also one of the most notorious to remove.
However, there are a few options for getting rid of it in the home that can be effective on the first try, depending on the outbreak you have and the mold species present.
To deal with the problem professionally, a mold removal expert can be hired at a greater cost to remove it.
These people inspect the home and then treat problem areas, as well as giving you tips for reducing the chance of infection in the future.
Many household products have been shown to kill mold spores and remove them, each with varying rates of success.
Bleach, vinegar, baking soda, borax, tea tree oil, and ammonia are some of the more popular choices.
Mold and mildew killing cleaners and products contain chemicals that can kill all of the spores and any trace of the fungus.
These are a harsher alternative that might be helpful when household products and other methods have failed.
Sick building syndrome can be used to describe the conditions that occur from living in an unhealthy space, and it’s unfortunately something many homes are prone to.
To ensure your family is living in the healthiest home possible, education is key, so check out the answers to some commonly asked questions about how to improve your indoor air quality.
Will Vinegar Kill Mold?
Those looking for a natural alternative to their mold solution might find some relief with household vinegar, although it’s not as effective as other methods.
White vinegar has been found to kill around 82 percent of mold species and can prevent it from returning, but only when used undiluted. For more stubborn mold, you will need to resort to serious measures, and enlist help from a professional to treat it.
Can an Air Purifier Remove Mold?
Air purifiers are great for homes with contaminants and pollutants in the air as they filter them out, but they will not get to the source of the problem.
While there are some models of air purifiers that remove airborne mold spores, the physical outbreak of the mold will have to be cleaned to rid your home of it.
Can Office Air Make You Sick?
One of the biggest contributors to sick building syndrome are office buildings, and this includes both new and renovated ones, so if you experience the usual symptoms during work hours this could be why.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sick building syndrome is a prominent condition in offices because of poor indoor air quality and a lack of ventilation.