About sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs)

What is sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs)?

Sick building syndrome is believed by some to be an illness caused by unknown agents in buildings.

  • Sick building syndrome is a controversial subject because many experts do not think it is a true syndrome.
  • Sick building syndrome has no known cause.
  • For those who believe the syndrome is real, many risk factors are cited.
  • Many nonspecific symptoms cited for the syndrome fit no pattern.
  • There are no diagnostic tests for the syndrome.
  • There is no specific treatment for the syndrome.
  • Complications of the alleged syndrome range from increased symptoms to inability to tolerate being inside a certain building and the problems, many job related, that may occur.
  • The prognosis of an alleged syndrome is unclear, but symptomatic treatments may reduce problems and result in a fair to good prognosis.
  • Prevention is difficult in a syndrome without a known cause, no diagnostic tests, and no defined treatments, but the Environmental Protection Agency provides prevention methods to address known disease problems that can be diagnosed and are known to be related to air-moving systems and construction materials used in buildings.

What is sick building syndrome?

Sick building syndrome (also termed environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS) is considered by some clinicians to be an illness in some people after they are exposed to as yet undefined chemical, biological, or physical agents that are thought to be found in building(s). The term was first used in 1986 and has been controversial ever since.

Why is sick building syndrome controversial?

Sick building syndrome is controversial. Although many people and some clinicians believe there is a disease "syndrome" related to buildings and their internal environment, many other clinicians and medical organizations say there is no convincing clinical evidence that such a medical syndrome exists. The controversy exists because a number of people have a constellation of nonspecific symptoms that have no proven etiology (cause), yet believe they occur from sources inside building(s). Medical organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and many experts say without any defined symptoms and no convincing evidence of a given source or cause, no test to diagnose the syndrome, and no treatment for the syndrome, there is no such medical syndrome.

What are the symptoms for sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs)?

Congestion symptom was found in the sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs) condition

SBS symptoms can affect your skin, respiratory, and neurological systems. You may mistakenly self-diagnose yourself with a cold or flu.

Among the possible symptoms are:

  • throat irritation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • tightness in the chest
  • runny nose
  • allergy-like symptoms, such as sneezing
  • burning sensations in the nose
  • dry, itchy skin rashes
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • forgetfulness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • body aches
  • fever
  • chills

If you have allergies or a current respiratory illness, you may notice an increased severity in your symptoms. For example, people with asthma might be at a higher risk for asthma attacks due to SBS.

It’s also important to note that SBS affects everyone differently. While everyone who spends time in a particular space might go through some of the above symptoms, these can vary. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. Others may experience symptoms after leaving the building in question — this may be due to repeated or long-term exposure.

What are the causes for sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs)?

The term “sick building syndrome” is used when the exact cause of your symptoms can’t be identified. However, there are a variety of possible causes you can ask your doctor about.

The culprits behind SBS may include:

  • buildings with poor ventilation, such as schools, offices, and public spaces
  • high levels of dust
  • tobacco smoke
  • rooms with poor lighting
  • outdated computer displays that cause eye strain
  • the presence of mold or fungus
  • formaldehyde (mostly found in wood furniture and floors)
  • asbestos
  • chemicals in the air from cleaning products
  • pesticides
  • carbon monoxide
  • ozone from the use of printers and fax machines
  • high levels of stress at school or work
  • low workplace morale
  • heat or low humidity
  • noisy work environments
  • insect or animal droppings

Given the variety of factors that can cause SBS, it’s difficult to pinpoint one single cause. You might be able to work with your employer to eliminate possible risk factors. This way, you can get to the source of the problem.

What are the treatments for sick building syndrome (environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or mcs)?

There are no proven treatments for this proposed disease. However, some doctors report reduction of patient's nonspecific symptoms by prescribing antidepressants (for example, fluoxetine [Prozac], paroxetine [Paxil]) or medications for anxiety or medications to help individuals sleep better. In addition, symptomatic treatment, while not treating the unknown cause(s), may provide individual symptom reduction or relief (for example, medication for nausea or headaches).

There may be known conditions in buildings that are related to this proposed syndrome that can be remedied by following building codes and other practices suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and OSHA; some of the major mechanisms are cited in the Prevention section below.

What are complications of sick building syndrome?

The complications of this alleged syndrome include increasing symptoms, interference of job productivity, job loss, necessity of relocation, extensive and expensive building testing (materials and airflow testing), and many medical tests to try to achieve a definitive diagnosis.

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