SICK BUILDING SYNDROME: AN OVERVIEW

Indoor chemical exposures can cause both short-term and long-term illnesses, especially when a person is exposed to a mixture of indoor air pollutants at low levels for long periods of time. Immediate health effects may appear after a single high-dose exposure, or after repeated lower-dose exposures. Immediate symptoms may include shortness of breath; wheezing; irritation of the throat, nose and eyes; headaches; dizziness; fatigue; sleep disturbances; loss of appetite… quite a wide variety of symptoms. If the source of the pollutant is readily identified and corrected, many symptoms go away either with avoidance or treatment. However, sources of the pollutant problem are often not identified until symptoms have progressed.

The long-term illnesses of indoor pollution may show up years after an exposure has occurred or after repeated periods of re-exposures. These long-term health effects can include respiratory disease; cardiac disease; difficulty concentrating; loss of short-term memory; problems with word searching, mood swings; and even cancer. Therefore it is mandatory to identify the pollutants at the earliest possible time, eliminate them, and treat the patient for any ill health effects.

During the end of the 1970’s, with a focus on energy conservation, buildings began to be constructed with windows that do not open. This allowed cool air to remain inside during the summer, and heat to remain inside during the winter. Parallel with the construction of closed buildings came an increase in toxic building materials, office machines that give off toxic chemicals, and a proliferation of chemical cleaning products, all of which generate chemicals in the indoor environment. The application of pesticides can add to this chemical load. Indoor air pollution often exceeds outdoor air pollution. Only about 40% of indoor chemicals come from outdoors. Sixty percent of indoor chemicals are generated from products used indoors.

Many molds give off toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health. Therefore, mold contamination must be thoroughly investigated when determining the sources of indoor air pollution. Bacteria have been the cause of multiple serious health outbreaks such as Legionnaires Disease and gastroenteritis. Bacteria can be cultured and identified.

Often a Certified Industrial Hygienist can identify sources of poor indoor air quality and arrange for the air to be tested. Remembering that low levels of chemicals can cause big problems, learn how to remediate any chemical levels that are measured.

Dr Adrienne Sprouse, a graduate of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, is the founder and Medical Director of Manhattan Health Consultants. She has advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental disorders in children and adults caused by or aggravated by environment factors.

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