Sick Building Syndrome


Have you ever worked somewhere that makes you feel sick, but your symptoms clear up when you spend time away from these places? Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) may be the reason. 

Some people can experience acute health problems that seem to be linked directly to time spent in a specific building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.

Sick Building Syndrome can be caused by a variety of factors, often related to a building’s indoor environment. Common causes of SBS include: 

  • Inadequate Ventilation
  • Chemical Contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources ie. Volatile organic compounds from paints, furniture, carpets, cleaning agents, office equipment, tobacco smoke or other combustion products, pollutants from exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, and pesticides.
  • Biological Contaminants such as mould, pollen, viruses which can thrive in areas with high humidity or where there is water damage.
  • Poor temperature control
  • Poor lighting or glare from computer screens
  • Stress, poor interpersonal relationships, and work, or work environment dissatisfaction.
  • Physical discomfort due to bad ergonomics

Of these listed above, mould exposure can have a particularly toxic effect on human health. Some of the symptoms associated with mould exposure include:  

Allergic reactions

Symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, skin rashes, and throat irritation as well as asthma attacks or exacerbation of asthma symptoms in individuals with asthma.

Respiratory issues

Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Chronic respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis, can also be worsened.

Toxic effects

Certain moulds, like Stachybotrys chartarum (black mould), produce mycotoxins, which can be harmful if inhaled, ingested, or if they come into contact with the skin. Mycotoxins can cause more severe symptoms, including respiratory problems, neurological issues, and systemic effects.

Neurological symptoms

Exposure to mould mycotoxins can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, dizziness, and mood changes such as anxiety and depression.

Immunological effects

Prolonged exposure to mould can lead to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is inflammation of the lungs caused by an immune system reaction to inhaled organic dust, including mould spores.

Skin irritation

Direct contact with mould can cause rashes and skin irritation.

Other general symptoms include fatigue, nausea, and flu-like symptoms.

People who are most vulnerable to mould toxicity include those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), people with weakened immune systems and the elderly or young children.

Preventative measures include:

  • Controlling moisture levels in buildings to prevent mould growth.
  • Regularly inspecting and maintaining air conditioning systems, rooves, and plumbing.
  • Using dehumidifiers in damp areas.
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Cleaning and properly drying any water-damaged areas within 24-48 hours.

If mould is discovered, it’s essential to address the underlying moisture problem and remove the mould using appropriate cleaning methods or professional remediation services to prevent further health issues.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 30 May 2024 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am.