Feeling Bad? Could Your House Be To Blame?
Poor indoor air quality can lead to what is known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). The sick building could be a home, office or school. The World Health Organization says:
Sick building syndrome (SBS) describes a medical condition in which people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feeling unwell for no apparent reason. The symptoms tend to increase in severity with the time people spend in the building, and improve over time or even disappear when people are away from the building. SBS results in substantial disruption of people's work performance and personal relationships, and considerable loss of productivity. SBS is widespread and may occur in offices, apartment houses, nurseries and schools, resulting in substantial costs to the community. Even though the cause-effect relations are unclear, it is possible to modify buildings with SBS problems.
You usually cannot tell by looking at a house, school or office building that it is sick. This cute little house could have Sick Building Syndrome and be causing its inhabitants to have mysterious illnesses. In his book, My House Is Killing Me, Jeffrey C. May advises:
So let's explore the causes of SBS, the symptoms people experience due to SBS, and ways to make your home, office, or school - and you - healthy again.
- Believe Your Body
- Study Your Body's Reactions
- Identify And Remove Probable Sources Of Irritants
- Turn To A Professional When Necessary
Causes Linked To Poor Indoor Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the following as sources of indoor air pollution:
Pollutants commonly found in office buildings include: asbestos, formaldehyde, cleaning materials, air fresheners, copying machines, printers, and computers. Some sources can be contained - like asbestos. Others - pressed wood products containing formaldehyde, for example - can be avoided. Air fresheners and others can be eliminated. But some we are just stuck with - like computers.
- Combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products
- Building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
- Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
- Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
- Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution
Frequent Offenders Leading To Poor Indoor Air Quality
The existence of one or more of the causes does not necessarily mean that your air quality is poor or you are on your way to SBS. However, if inexplicable symptoms are present, and you are wondering if your home or office or your child's school could have SBS, take a look around. Mold, whether visible or not, is definitely a frequent offender. You may find visible signs or you may just feel bad and not know why. If you suspect that mold is contributing to poor air quality in your environment, there is a simple test that you can do: step outside for a minute or two and step back inside to see how the air smells. If the indoor air smells stale or musty, you may have a mold problem. Sometimes you know you have a problem because the mold is visible, especially on books, shoes or items stored in a basement or closet. You might notice condensation on your windows or see that your central heating and air equipment is unusually dirty. If you think mold is contaminating your home or office, it can be beneficial to do testing to determine the extent of the problem and the type of mold. Knowing the enemy's whereabouts and strength can help you be triumphant over mold.
Dust mites are also a widespread problem for two main reasons - dust mites are just about everywhere and about 10% of Americans are allergic to dust mite allergen. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology:
Testing to see if you have dust mites is really not necessary, because unless you live in a very dry climate, you almost certainly have them as they are part of the ecology. However, a humidity gauge to make sure the humidity in your home or office remains between 40% and 50% can be a valuable tool in dust mite reduction. However, even if the humidity in your room is controlled, your bed is a favorite habitat for dust mites because of the moist heat provided by your body. Using comfortable zippered covers on your pillows, mattress, comforter and box spring keeps dust mites and their allergen from getting into your breathing zone. If you are allergic to dust mite allergen, protection from the source can greatly improve indoor air quality for you.
- Dust mites are hardy creatures that live and multiply easily in warm, humid places.
- They die when the humidity falls below 40 percent to 50 percent.
- High levels of exposure to dust mite are a significant factor in the development of asthma in children.
Carbon monoxide and radon are two potentially deadly causes of SBS. Both gases are odorless and undetectable without testing devices. Fortunately, there are tests to check levels of carbon monoxide or radon, and there are carbon monoxide detectors to continuously monitor carbon monoxide levels.
Symptoms Associated With Poor Indoor Air Quality
SBS is hard to pin down, but if you feel bad and can't figure out why, see if you have any of these symptoms: headache; nausea; dizziness; fatigue; sneezing or coughing; chest tightness; fever, chills or muscle aches; difficulty in concentrating; eye, nose or throat irritation; and, sensitivity to odors. If symptoms go away when you leave the room or building, and that is another indicator that poor air quality may be the culprit. However, sometimes symptoms take a while to go away. This is probably directly related to the length and degree of exposure to the pollutants.
Everyone reacts differently to their environment. For example, some react to mold, and others react to chemicals. If you develop symptoms of illness when you spend time in a particular room, office, or area, others may think you are a hypochondriac. After all, they don't get sick. Jeffrey May says, "The irritants and allergens may appear to be phantoms, but they are real, and you must believe you can eliminate many of them if your try." If you believe something in your environment is making you sick, keep investigating and asking questions. You might discover something seemingly inconsequential that is the root of your problem, or you might find a bigger problem that is not readily apparent.
Remedies To Help Make Your Home, Office or School - And You - Well Again
First, if you suspect poor air quality or SBS in your home, get rid of as many of the known possible causes as you can. You probably already know some things you are sensitive to, but you may not have linked them to feeling bad. I know I have to cross to the other side of the mall or hold my breath when I get near a candle shop. I know certain perfumes give me an immediate headache, so I avoid them. I know I have to wear a mask around dust, or I sneeze uncontrollably and my eyes stream. You may be sensitive to some factors detrimental to air quality and need to take these steps:
~ Forbid smoking indoors.
~ Check the fan over the stove to make sure it is venting properly.
~ Change to chemical-free or low-chemical cleaning products such as vegetable-based EnviroRite products.
~ Choose an allergen reduction furnace filter and be sure to change it regularly - when the season changes is usually a good reminder.
~ Use mattress, pillow and box spring encasings to contain dust mite allergen.
~ Switch to personal care products that have no added fragrance.
~ Eliminate air fresheners and candles. Instead, pick a natural product for odor control.
~ Have a look at your heating and cooling system for gas leaks, proper ventilation, and defects in ductwork.
~ Bathe your pet with dander-reducing shampoo.
If none of the possible causes above seem to apply to you, think back to what has recently happened in your environment.
- Has pesticide been sprayed? I always ask the pest control service to only spray outdoors and this works very well for me. Another pest control option for cockroaches is cockroach bait traps.
- Has there been a leak or flooding? Look closely for mold. Even lift the edge of carpet and pad where mold can hide. You can use mold remediation products to handle the problem yourself if it is not too big. If the mold covers an area of more than 10 square feet, think about getting the help of a professional.
- Have new windows been installed? Air flow may have become too restricted.
- Do you have new kitchen cabinets? Outgassing of new wood products and furniture or new carpet may require additional ventilation temporarily.
- Have you just filled up the gas can for the lawnmower? Gas, kerosene, or similar items with fumes may need to be moved out of the garage.
Even common particulates like dust and pollen affect indoor air quality. Use of a HEPA air cleaner can pull 99.97% of particulates that are 0.3 microns or larger in size out of the air. Some air cleaners have special filters designed to pull fumes and odors out of the air as well. An air cleaner cannot take all the dust out of a room, so also keep dust managed with damp or electrostatic dusting aids.
If you live in an apartment or condominium or you believe your workplace has poor air quality, the remedy can be trickier. Since the symptoms people exhibit from poor air quality are symptoms common to hundreds of other conditions or diseases, it is often difficult to get cooperation from landlords or building managers. To give credence to your complaint, find others in your building who are also having unexplained symptoms.
In conclusion, it's not just the pollutants that are in your home or office that are causing problems. It's also a lack of ventilation that allows these pollutants to build up, sometimes to dangerous levels. It seems the human race is outsmarting itself by sealing buildings to save energy. The cure for loss of heated or cooled air may be worse than the problem. Reducing contaminants and finding a happy medium between energy conservation and ventilation are answers to improving indoor air quality and, hopefully, providing a remedy for Sick Building Syndrome.
Remember that our customer service representatives have plenty of experience guiding people through the options for allergy, asthma and sinus relief, so feel free to contact us by calling one of our phone experts at 1-800-522-1448 Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:30 pm Eastern Time. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information in this newsletter is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.