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Sick building syndrome is a term used to describe ill health effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building and that cannot be attributed to any other specific illness or cause. Symptoms that building occupants may experience include headache, dry cough, and fatigue. Most people with this syndrome report relief soon after leaving the building.

What Is Sick Building Syndrome?

The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints of sick building syndrome may be localized in a particular room or zone, or they may be widespread throughout the building.
 
In contrast to sick building syndrome, the term "building related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of a diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.
 
A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Often, this condition is temporary, but some buildings have long-term problems. Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes, indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.
 

What Are the Symptoms?

Sick building syndrome may be suspected if building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort. Possible symptoms of sick building syndrome may include:
 
  • Headache
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Dry cough
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors.

 

The cause of these and other sick building syndrome symptoms is not known. Most people with sick building syndrome report relief soon after leaving the building.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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