Sick Building Syndrome – What It Is And Its Causes!

September 17, 2021 by No Comments

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Do you often feel sick, but follow a healthy daily routine? Don’t you know the reason for the symptoms and even think of the worst? Now, maybe you have a serious sick building syndrome problem 

“Hey? Like this? How can I have sick building syndrome !? I’m not a building, no! ”

Well, the syndrome exists, but of course it is not a syndrome acquired by humans … But it is possible that your health is affected by the environment of a sick building, which you spend your life on daily.

And the worst?

It can lead to death.

In 1982, at a hotel in Philadelphia, 34 people in a total of 182 cases died from collective pneumonia contamination. Guess the culprit? It was the hotel’s indoor air. Leading to the World Health Organization (WHO) registering the syndrome as a real problem.

Unfortunately, the sick building syndrome is something totally real and was the cause of the death of the Minister of Communications, Sérgio Motta, in the 90s, thanks to the fungi present in the air. In addition, the symptoms are very similar to rhinitis, or some other respiratory disease, making the person not even suspect that the problem is, literally, in the environment of the residence.

And you’ve probably been affected by it at least once in your life.

So, do you want to know more about this syndrome and its causes?

So keep reading without precaution!

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

what is sick building syndrome Fungi or molds are one of the causes of sick building syndrome.

You have probably felt irritation in your eyes or nose and even a headache when you entered an old residence. Did you know that the cause of these symptoms can be caused by a sick building?

Sick building syndrome is the name given to the cause and effect relationship of the conditions of an internal environment and the damage to the health of those who are in it for long periods of days, being caused by physical, chemical or biological origin. The WHO defines it as ” a set of diseases caused or stimulated by pollution of the environment in closed spaces “.

In order for a building to be categorized as sick, it needs 20% of its residents to have health disorders associated with the frequent length of stay inside.

As much as the syndrome has no effect on some people, be aware that symptoms related to construction have a long-term impact on health.

“But isn’t it just leaving the building that the problem is solved?”

In certain cases, yes. Removing from the site can cause the symptoms to disappear … However, prolonged contact with the environment of a sick building can very well cause more intense disturbances, causing the so-called BRI – building-related illness, which translates to “ related diseases to the building ”.

In addition to the new disorders, another consequence is the worsening of other diseases already acquired, such as rhinitis and asthma. And there’s more! The sick building syndrome can also cause other problems due to exposure in the workplace, such as occupational asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, making several workers sick.

As you can see, a sick building is able to increase the frequency of absences from work. After all, an environment that provides illnesses to workers has the power to hinder and decrease workers’ productivity and living conditions.

This is even worse in urban cities, where more and more people are spending their lives inside a cubicle full of moisture, dirt and pollution from outside, whether working or staying at home. In short, it is a really serious problem.

The WHO classifies two types of Sick Building Syndrome:

1 – Temporary sick building syndrome

This classification includes buildings that have recently been built or have recently been remodeled. They usually have irregularities that disappear in about 6 months.

This happens mainly in buildings that are designed without the use of safe materials since they have high concentrations of VOC (volatile organic compounds) and particulate material in the air, usually originating from glues or paints.

It is worth remembering that negligence in the project, lack of maintenance of the air conditioning systems and the use of inadequate filters, can make the building syndrome sick from temporary to permanent even in the newest structures.

2 – Permanently sick Building Syndrome

This type of building usually has design errors, erroneous maintenance or lack thereof, in addition to other reasons that caused damage to the building.

In addition, as time does not forgive anyone, old buildings can produce mold, moisture on the walls, accumulation of chemical and biological contaminants in the refrigeration systems and other prominent problems of equipment aging.

This gets even worse in buildings that do not receive adequate ventilation. Especially in those where the integrated ventilation system does not receive adequate and routine maintenance and is contaminated with microbes that cause several unwanted problems.

Causes of sick building syndrome

Chemical causes

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Starting with the main contaminant in indoor environments, chemical contaminants. In this category, you can enter:

  • Carbon monoxide;
  • Nitrogen dioxide;
  • Ozone;
  • Formaldehyde;
  • Sulfur dioxide;
  • Ammonia;
  • Radon 222.

These chemical contaminants can originate from:

  • Own soil;
  • Groundwater;
  • Stones;
  • Bricks;
  • Concrete;
  • Coating synthetics;
  • Wood chipboard;
  • Solvent;
  • Carpets;
  • Wallpapers;
  • Glue;
  • Removers;
  • Wax
  • Insulation foam;
  • Solvent;
  • Paints;
  • Varnishes;
  • Cleaning products;
  • Printers;
  • Photocopiers.

In addition to them, furniture and other utensils also have the ability to release different types of substances harmful to humans in small amounts that are dispersed through the air for years and years.

Know that the level of pollution in indoor air can be even higher than outdoor air, especially in very old environments, where chemical compounds can accumulate in certain places.

Another problem that needs to be highlighted is volatile organic compounds (VOC). They have irritating properties and a strong odor, they also have the ability to trigger symptoms of irritation, allergy, sneezing, coughing, hoarseness, eye irritation, hypersensitivity, vomiting, headaches, etc.

Biological causes

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A “natural” substance does not mean that it is safe. Many factors of biological and natural origin can be very dangerous and even fatal for any type of person. This category is found by our old acquaintances and companions of all life, such as:

  • Bacteria;
  • Fungi;
  • Protozoa;
  • Arthropods;
  • Virus;
  • Animal feces;
  • Bioaerosols (particles of biology origin suspended in the air, such as pollen or mold).

The bioaerosóis need special attention here, since depending on the biological and chemical properties, the amount of inhaled particles, the places where they hold the respiratory system and the level of sensitivity or allergies of the individual, they can be fatal. Exposure to bioerasol can lead to rhinitis, sinusitis, conjunctivitis, pneumonia, asthma, bronchopulmonary aspergillosis and others.

The most common fungi in sick building syndrome are:

  • Penicillium;
  • Cladosporium;
  • Alternaria;
  • Aspergillus.

Regarding bacteria:

  • Bacillus Staphylococus;
  • Micrococus;
  • Legionella Pneumophila.

How to get rid of it? Well, a good maintenance and a deep and routine cleaning are important in places of stagnant water, cooling towers, dehumidifiers, humidifiers or any other device that disperses air in the environment and that adds water or dirt over time.

In addition, any infiltrations or leaks must be properly fixed to prevent sick building syndrome.

Another important point is to pay attention to humid environments and porous materials, such as ceilings, walls and insulation, so that they do not become contaminating sources (fungi love humidity, darkness and heat!).

When it comes to furniture or fixed surfaces, a good cleaning already helps a lot to eliminate most of the pathogens. Another recommendation is to reduce or stop using fabrics and carpets so that they do not accumulate dirt and micro-organisms; if you still choose to use them, then it is necessary to do a special cleaning on them.

And don’t forget to check and make it difficult for animals to enter the building. Many of them transmit diseases to man through bites, fleas, ticks, hair, feathers, dirt, excrement and zoonoses.

Physical causes

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Noises above 50 decibels can cause various types of physical and psychological problems;

The physical causes can be:

  • Lighting;
  • Noise level;
  • Electromagnetic fields;
  • Local temperature;
  • Humidity of the environment.

“So it’s not just microbes or chemicals that can make me sick?”

Yes, other physical causes also play a role in causing the sick building syndrome, creating several problems for occupants, both in health and psychological, especially at high levels.

Just to give you an idea, excessive lighting or lack thereof, can cause visual fatigue, irritating headaches, tension, accidents, and in some cases, disruption of the circadian rhythm and damage to the macula (a location in the center of the retina that allows for clear vision).

The noise can also affect our body, going far beyond stress or discomfort. Staying in a place with noise above 50 acoustic decibels can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, infections and even osteoporosis.

Excessive exposure to electromagnetic waves is another problem that also deserves attention. They are issued by electronic devices. As much as it is imperceptible by our senses, they can still affect us considerably at the cellular and even psychological level. However, research confirming this idea is still inconclusive.

Elevated temperatures can cause headaches, lethargy and tiredness. If the person is not drinking liquid as he should, cramping can even occur due to the loss of water in the sweat.

In the matter of air humidity, both the excess and the lack have consequences for the human body. Humidity below 40% can cause discomfort in the mucous membranes and airways. Up to 60% may contribute to condensation, accelerated reproduction of pathogenic microbes, corrosion or rust.

Symptoms of the syndrome of sick building

symptoms of sick building syndrome

The symptoms of sick building syndrome are similar to those of the flu and colds.

Unfortunately, like many other diseases, the symptoms of building syndrome are very similar to those of the cold or sinusitis. To make matters worse, not all residents have symptoms, so investigating the environment is essential for the correct diagnosis.

If you feel strange smells and irritation in the nasal mucosa, making yourself so uncomfortable that you want to leave the place. These are possible signs that the ambient air is of poor quality.

“But the analysis of the air sample does not indicate considerable concentrations of pollutants …”

This is what is complicated. As much as the samples do not show significant concentrations of any pollutant, there may be small concentrations of various types of pollutants mixed in a single environment, present only in one building. Like a real VOC salad, mold and chemical components.

Normally, illnesses or symptoms related to a sick building worsen over the days present in the work environment, improving only at night, as soon as you leave the place. However, if the problem is at home, then it can end up becoming a daily problem.

In 1982, the WHO Technical Committee defined a set of the main symptoms of the sick building syndrome, which are:

  • Headache;
  • Lethargy;
  • Burning and itchy eyes;
  • Irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose or throat;
  • Skin problems;
  • Difficulty concentrating.

Symptoms are divided into 4 main groups:

  • Eye problems
    Irritation, tenderness, pain, dry eyes, itching and constant tearing.
  • Respiratory (or nasal) manifestations Nasal irritation, stuffy nose, runny nose, rhinorrhea, sensation or difficulty in breathing, worsening of asthma and rhinitis symptoms, dry nostril/throat sensation, pain and irritation in the throat.
  • Cutaneous manifestations (skin)
    Dryness, itching, irritation, allergies and other skin problems.
  • General problems
    Strong or weak headaches, dizziness, fatigue, dizziness, excessive drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, vomiting and stress. The stress in turn can lead to many other problems.

Shutting down

With all this said, it is clear that sick building syndrome is a very serious problem and can even lead to death.

Worst of all is to know the number of buildings that suffer this today, especially in large cities. After all, data are difficult to acquire, either due to fears of those responsible for the buildings or the total lack of information about the problem. Just to give you an idea, according to the WHO, the number of buildings with the syndrome can reach 50%. An alarming fact, no doubt.

Therefore, one of the best ways to combat sick building syndrome is to always keep the environment clean, to have control over the amount of VOC present in the place, to know the quantity and quality of cleaning products. Do not forget to install a good air conditioning system or a quality ventilation system, besides of course never failing to periodically maintain these systems.