Are You Suffering from Sick Home Syndrome?
Do you notice a change in how you feel physically when you spend time at a particular building, like your home or at work? Maybe you notice chest tightness or a cough when you get home. Or perhaps your significant other complains of headaches at the office, and attributes it to stress. It's easy to simply brush these warning signs off as allergies, lack of sleep, or some other innocuous factor, but in reality, you and your loved ones may be suffering from sick home syndrome (also known as sick building syndrome).
What is Sick Home Syndrome?
Sick home syndrome is a term used to describe situations where building occupants develop specific physical symptoms when spending time in a particular building. Such symptoms often include cough, chest tightness, nausea, lightheadedness, throat and nasal irritation, fatigue and a number of other symptoms.
The defining factor with sick home syndrome is that these symptoms are experienced while you spend time in a particular building. Once you leave the premises, the physical symptoms seem to rapidly disappear. When you return, your body once again begins to experience a physical reaction.
Why we develop Sick Home Syndrome
Sick home syndrome is your body's reaction to pathogens, mold, toxic chemicals, or lack of proper ventilation. Here are some of the reasons you or your loved ones may experience symptoms.
1) Chemical Contamination: There are many chemicals that can cause sick home syndrome, including tobacco smoke, copy machine fumes, formaldehyde (often present in office furniture), asbestos, radon and gas space heaters. All of these chemicals are often found indoors at the office, and even in your home.
However, you can even be affected by outside contaminants while indoors. Outside contaminants include things like automobile exhaust and building exhausts, to name a few. Though these chemicals are present outside, they easily enter the building through poorly-positioned intake vents that pull all of these toxins indoors.
2) Poor Ventilation: Another major cause of sick home syndrome is poor ventilation. This occurs when not enough fresh air is brought into the building from the outside. This causes a number of issues; carbon dioxide levels rise, oxygen levels decrease, and concentrations of indoor toxins and pathogens increase, because they are not being diluted by outside air.
The standard recommendation for indoor ventilation is approximately 15 cubic feet of fresh air per minute, per occupant. However, though many HVAC systems are designed to accomplish this, they often don't deliver these numbers due to poor maintenance.
3) Biological Factors: Mold, bacteria and allergens can also cause sick home syndrome. Their concentrations can be very high indoors, due to poorly-functioning HVAC systems and dirty air ducts.
Preventing Sick Home Syndrome
There are several steps that can be taken to reduce sick home syndrome symptoms.
1) Removing the Source: If the source of the symptoms can be identified, then the symptoms can be reduced easily by removing the source. For example, if your desk is located near a copy machine and you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, try to move to a different workspace, farther away, to see if your symptoms improve.
2) HVAC Cleaning: If the source is more difficult to pin down, an HVAC cleaning is a viable step toward controlling your symptoms. With a thorough HVAC and air duct cleaning, many pathogens like mold, bacteria, and dust can be removed so that the circulating air is of much higher quality.
3) Increase Ventilation: In many buildings, the HVAC systems are not operated to full capacity, or are not properly maintained. This means the ventilation rates are lower than the system's original design. Increasing the ventilation rates to manufactured capacity can dramatically improve indoor air quality.
Our indoor air quality experts can help you identify the causes of sick home syndrome in your home or office, and help you take meaningful steps to improving indoor air quality.