Understanding the Link between Sick Building Syndrome and Indoor Air Quality

Quin Dams
Market Segment Manager, Building & Construction
IHM, Performance Tapes Europe, Avery Dennison

Quin is passionate about technical building applications since he designed and built his family home back in 2012. Professionally, Quin held several positions as Product Manager responsible for the product life cycle of many technical applications related to the building environment, namely in Adhesives, Lighting and Plastics. He joined Performance Tapes Europe as a market segment manager for tape applications in the construction and industrial markets where he teams up with customers and R&D to achieve tape solutions that improve the installation performance and sustainability of buildings and related products and processes.


Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and indoor air pollution go hand in hand – and as a builder or contractor, it’s a growing issue especially when it comes to retrofitting older buildings or planning systems of ventilation.

Used to describe situations where people experience negative health effects from spending time in a home or building, SBS was coined in the 1970s when office workers reported health issues after moving into brand-new buildings.

In 1984, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially acknowledged it in a report as a real and valid disease caused mainly by indoor air quality (IAQ).

Numerous studies since have demonstrated Sick Building Syndrome to be a common problem, particularly in buildings such as hospitals and schools. Indeed, research also shows that up to 80% of employees are potentially being affected one way or another because of the conditions inside their workplace building.

Making strides in improving air quality– inside and out

Much is made, quite rightly, of the need to mitigate against air pollution from outside, and Central and Western Europe in particular have made great strides in improving outdoor air quality through several measures such as stringent reporting and raising public awareness.    

Indoor air quality is the next battleline to be drawn up, and one that real estate developers, building contractors and estate managers are taking seriously.

On average, people spend 93% of their time in buildings, be it at home, in school, the office or other public buildings – crucially, the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than in typical outdoor settings. And this could potentially lead to sickness and other health concerns.

How worried should building professionals be about SBS?

Research into SBS has demonstrated a clear and unambiguous link with poor indoor air quality.

In short, indoor oxygen levels decrease due to microscopic dust and airborne particulates exponentially multiplying. These allergens can multiply at considerable speed, and in dry air environments that are insufficiently ventilated, they can multiply around 20 times a day. In damp indoor environments this increases to 60.

While symptoms vary depending on the individuals in question, it is important to consider that SBS is indiscriminate and affects groups of people. Short-term symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome include:

●      Eye irritation

●      Pharyngitis (throat irritation)

●      Coughing

●      Headache

●      Dizziness

●      Nasal congestion/inflammation

●      Fatigue

●      Nausea

Longer-term symptoms can be far more serious. If left unresolved, poor indoor air quality can lead to medical issues such as worsening asthma, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke, cataract, dyspnoea, muscle pain, vomiting and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among others.

Another crucial consideration is that some people are far more vulnerable to indoor air pollution than others. Children, pregnant women, older people (aged 65 and over) and those who suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular problems (such as asthma) are among those most at risk from substandard IAQ.

When it comes to solutions, contractors and other professions responsible for the upkeep of buildings look to reducing or eliminating the risk factors by dealing with poor indoor air quality. This can be achieved by increasing ventilation, regular and thorough cleaning of floors and furniture and keeping the ambient temperature low.

Want to find out more about SBS and how to mitigate against it? Download our white paper today.


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