Sick Building Syndrome (Environmental Illness, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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What is the prognosis of sick building syndrome?

Because there is no known cause(s), no way to perform a definitive diagnosis, and doubt by many professionals that a sick building syndrome even exists, in general, the prognosis is unclear. However, some people who have had their symptoms treated may have a prognosis that ranges from fair to good.

Is there a way to prevent sick building syndrome?

It is difficult to prevent a syndrome if its cause(s), diagnostic tests, treatments, and its existence is not clear to a large segment of doctors. However, people may be able to prevent some of their nonspecific symptoms by working with their doctors to treat symptoms.

There is still another view of prevention taken by a U.S. government agency, the Environmental Protection Agency. Although the EPA considers sick building syndrome to be a term to serve as an indicator of an unknown illness, it uses the term "building related illness," or BRI, as a term to describe known causes of problems such as toxic gasses and molds, mildew, bacteria, plants, and other known compounds found in buildings (and elsewhere) that can cause complaints, negative health effects, and result in lawsuits. They are related to indoor air quality or indoor air pollution. The EPA cites World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that indicate as many as 30% of all buildings worldwide that are new or refurbished have air-quality problems. In contrast to sick building syndrome, these problems are identifiable and most can be remedied by such methods as using HEPA filters to reduce or eliminate most airborne particles, avoiding building air intakes located near sources of vehicle exhaust fumes or other irritants, and avoiding fungal and bacterial contamination of air conditioning or other air circulating methods. According to the EPA, some people who are termed as having sick building syndrome are actually in a situation where they have a building-related illness that has not been investigated or the source identified. However, that does not make their problem a new syndrome. Appropriate building materials and construction, along with good maintenance techniques can prevent most instance of BRI; some investigators suggest that, in turn, the "sick building syndrome" diagnoses will decrease.

Medically reviewed by Joseph Palermo, DO; American Osteopathic Board Certified Internal Medicine

REFERENCES:

United States. Environmental Protection Agency. "Indoor Air Facts No. 4: Sick Building Syndrome." Feb. 1994 <http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pdfs/sick_building_factsheet.pdf>.

United States. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. "Indoor Air Quality Investigation." Jan. 20, 1999. <http://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/otm_iii/otm_iii_2.html>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/23/2015
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