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What Is Sick Building Syndrome?


That sick and tired feeling after a day at the office or in your home might not just be in your head — it may actually be in the walls around you.

How much time would you guess you spend inside on an average day? If it feels like it’s almost all the time, that’s because it probably is.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends 17.5 hours a day either working, sleeping, or performing indoor household activities – that’s almost three quarters of their time! So what happens if during that entire period you were actually inside of a room or building that was harmful to your health?

Would you be surprised if that space was your home or workplace? It turns out that toxic buildings are actually quite common, and the human effects of that toxicity are called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

The reality is that not all buildings were created equal. EPA research points out that many buildings were built before there was a cohesive scientific understanding of what constitutes a healthy interior space. It’s often the case that indoor air quality, ventilation rates, the amount of sunlight, and various other metrics of a building’s safety are not up to par, contributing to suboptimal living conditions. SBS is a serious, albeit relatively unknown, issue that affects virtually all of us in some way and at some point. Here’s what you need to know:

There’s No Discernible Cause

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), one of the biggest red flags for SBS is the experience of one or several acute symptoms, like headaches, nausea, coughing, chest pain, dizziness, or fatigue. These varied and somewhat commonplace health problems make it very difficult to identify a specific cause or illness. As expected, these symptoms will generally balloon while a person is in a particular building, then abate shortly after leaving. 

And while these might seem like minor irritants, SBS can eventually contribute to things like increased absenteeism, brought about by general sickness and lower levels of overall productivity. It’s common sense that employees work better when they feel better, and unfortunately, most people will look to almost every other cause before suspecting the very room they’re sitting in.

More than just a temporary setback, the symptoms of SBS can actually become chronic and turn into a persistent condition referred to as a Building Related Illness (BRI), according to the Global Healing Center. This means that, even after leaving a hazardous building, symptoms may require a prolonged recovery time to fully cease.

Ventilation and Contamination

The EPA also states that one of the principal causes of SBS is inadequate ventilation. Many carpets, pieces of furniture, and construction components consistently release potentially harmful or toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, and even formaldehyde directly into a living space.

Unwanted contaminants are typically present in homes at relatively safe levels, but if they’re not consistently flushed out of the air, they can build up to intolerable volumes — certainly enough to cause a headache, or maybe something worse. Even a buildup of carbon dioxide from residents’ everyday breathing is enough to make someone feel fatigued and unproductive.

There are plenty of other contaminants floating around, too. Things like outdoor vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke can be easily drawn into a building’s heating and ventilation system, accidentally cycling pollutants into living areas. Biological contaminants like mold, bacteria, pollen, and viruses can also easily create inhospitable working environments. 

Reclaiming Your Air

Luckily, you have some options to make sure you’re not living in an unhealthy environment on a daily basis. The EPA recommends performing a building walkthrough to address easily recognizable contaminants like mold, paint, and adhesives. You may also want to work with a professional to determine that your HVAC equipment is functioning at proper levels, which may include actually increasing your ventilation rates.

Some of the simplest fixes can be the most helpful ones — sufficient lighting, comfortable temperature, and adequate humidity are crucial to a healthy space. The importance of access to natural light cannot be overstated, and contributes significantly to overall mood and contentment.

One of the most proactive solutions, however, is to buy a quality personal air purifier, which ensures that your breathing space is always clean and healthy — and some of the best models in the industry are available through Rabbit Air. Whatever your method, maintaining a hospitable living environment and curating fresh air is critical to healthy living and working. We spend most of our time inside, and that time shouldn’t, under any circumstances, be detrimental to our health.
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