man suffering from sick house syndrome

“I’m sick of staying home!” We’ve probably heard this phrase more than once, especially  with the growing trends of work-from-home (WFH). Did you know that there could be more to it than just ‘a feeling’? You might be suffering from Sick House Syndrome, or what experts call Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). 

It is described as feelings of illness that are associated with inhabiting a specific building.

Symptoms of Sick House Syndrome include

  • Nausea
  • Giddiness
  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Irritation of the senses, which include the eyes, nose, throat, or even the skin.
  • Interference with your concentration.

So what actually causes Sick House Syndrome?

(Do note that Sick House Syndrome is a complicated condition to diagnose due to the variety of factors associated with it, and the fact that it could be attributed to many other health issues as well.)

1) Bad indoor air quality and poor ventilation

It’s rare to see an office without air-conditioning nowadays. But this has its drawbacks: a lack of fresh air and proper air circulation. Ventilation is important: it minimises the amount of indoor pollutants and regulates dampness and humidity levels, preventing the growth of mould and bacteria.

2) Harmful chemical particles

Our homes and workplace areas are more chemically contaminated than you might think. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are present in things like paint, certain flooring materials, pesticides, air fresheners and disinfecting agents.

3) Lighting and temperature

Lighting and temperature affect humidity levels and can also influence workers’ individual productivity levels. Harsh lighting and temperatures which are too hot or cold can stimulate discomfort – some bodily examples are eye strain, bad posture and headaches.

Treatments:

The most direct way of targeting symptoms would be to make changes to the environment causing Sick House Syndrome. Some examples are:

  • Ensure optimal cleanliness. Vacuum instead of sweep.
  • Open your windows and minimise air-conditioner use if possible.
  • Keep track of mould growth and the dampness of the environment.
  • Store products that have VOCs properly. 
  • When using products that have VOCs, follow instructions and their measurements carefully.
  • Try to get fresh air often by taking short walks outside.

References:

Boslaugh, Sarah E. (2016, July 13). Sick Building Syndrome, Medical Disorder. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/sick-building-syndrome 

Parental Warning: Harmful Chemicals in Vinyl Floors, Furniture. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/vinyl-floors-expose-children-to-harmful-chemicals 

Poslusney, Catherine. (2018, July 27). Sick Building Syndrome: Is Your Office Making You Ill? Molekule, Blog. https://molekule.science/sick-building-syndrome-is-your-office-making-you-ill/ 

Saleh, Naveed. (2020, February 17). Sick Building Syndrome Explained. VeryWellHealth. https://www.verywellhealth.com/sick-building-syndrome-explained-4149515 

Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality