Unexplained headaches, dizziness or flu-like symptoms? While there are obviously a range of causes which may cause these complaints, these can all be linked to the relatively little known Sick Building Syndrome. The term “Sick Building Syndrome” was coined by the WHO in 1986 when they estimated that 10-30% of newly built office buildings had indoor pollution problems which were bringing about these symptoms.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome is a situation in which occupants of a building experience acute health or comfort related effects whose direct causation seems to be linked to having spent time within a particular building. Importantly, no other specific illness or cause can be pin-pointed.

Symptoms of the Sick Building Syndrome

While a variety of symptoms can manifest themselves, common complaints include:

  • Headaches (often a dull throb as opposed to an aching migraine) and dizziness
  • Tiredness and loss of concentration
  • Hypersensitivity problems, e.g. increased sensitivity to odours
  • Eye problems
  • Skin problems e.g. dry or itchy skin
  • Increased instances of asthma attacks
  • Nausea
  • Allergies
  • Coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Ear, nose or throat irritation

As these symptoms can be indicative of a wide range of illnesses or diseases, the key to linking them with Sick Building Syndrome is a sharp increase in the amount or severity of illnesses  within a short space of time of people who use a common building. Moreover, these symptoms often dissipate soon after the individuals leave the affected room or premises. However, depending on the severity of the situation, there can be ongoing effects as a result of the build up of various neurotoxins.


While a whole range of factors can result in individuals demonstrating Sick Building Syndrome symptoms, some of the common causes include:

  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Chemical contaminants
    • From outdoor sources e.g. pollutants from motor vehicle exhaust, poorly located air vents allowing external contaminants to enter
    • From indoor sources e.g. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, photocopiers, pesticides, cleaning products etc.
    • Biological contaminants e.g. bacteria, mould, pollen, viruses, fungi, insect and bird droppings
    • Electromagnetic radiation

Prevention and Control

A number of measures can be introduced to remediate the effects of Sick Building Syndrome. These include:

  • Conduct an employee survey to see if the occurrence of symptoms is higher than expected
  • Check the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and assess the indoor air quality
  • Increasing the ventilation rates and air distribution
  • Assess the rates of mould, bacteria and fungi present
  • Removal or modification of pollution sources

If you are worried that your workplace or home may be at risk, ADE is able to conduct building assessments to identify the potential causes of symptoms related to Sick Building Syndrome. Contact us for an environmental audit.

ADE Head Office – NSW
Unit 6/7 Millennium Ct.,
Silverwater, NSW, 2128, Australia
(02) 8541 7214
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Silverwater, NSW, 2128, Australia
(02) 9648 6669
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Port Melbourne, 3207
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Thornton, NSW
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