Definition of Sick Building Syndrome

"Sick building syndrome" is defined as a condition that appears be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. Possible symptoms include headache, cough, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat. This syndrome is different from "building related illness," which can be directly linked to airborne contaminants.

What Is the Definition of 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 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. Symptoms of sick building syndrome may include:
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors
  • Difficulty in concentrating.
The cause of these symptoms is not known. Most people with sick building syndrome report relief soon after leaving the building.
(Click Sick Building Syndrome for more information about this condition.)
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