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Sick House Syndrome

Updated on April 16, 2020
Lady Lorelei profile image

Mother of 2 daughters and grandmother of 7, I strive daily to achieve an optimum level of health and happiness. Life is all about balance.

Home Sweet Polluted Home
Home Sweet Polluted Home | Source

It Has Little To Do With How Well You Clean Your Home

Are you or your family suffering from sick house syndrome? Mildew, mold, dust mites, bacteria, second hand smoke, and pet dander are just a few of the pollutants which are frequently found in homes.

There can be serious toxins lurking in some homes and work places. Some of these toxins include formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, asbestos, lead dust, sulfur dioxide, radon gas, as well as other pollutants. These toxic substances could be making you and your family ill.

Polluted Indoor Air Is The Cause Of Sick House Syndrome

In 1984 the World Health Organization officially announced that the polluted indoor air within homes and workplaces was causing the occupants of those buildings to become ill. This illness was officially termed "Sick Building Syndrome" or "Sick House Syndrome" and was officially classified as a very real illness.

It was estimated that up to thirty percent of all newly renovated, or newly built homes and offices, could be classified as sick buildings that could cause illness to the people who breathed the polluted air within them.

It is believed that Radon gas may be the second leading cause of lung cancer edged out only by cigarette smoking. Radon gas is generally found in the homes of basements and is one of many indoor home pollutants.

Carbon monoxide is another common indoor pollutant. Testing the air in your home for carbon monoxide poisoning can warn you when things go wrong. An alarm can warn you if there is leakage between your enclosed garage and your home.


What Is Sick House Syndrome?

Sick house syndrome is basically the same as sick building syndrome and it occurs when the air inside a house reaches pollution levels sufficient enough to cause illness or disease to its occupants. That sniffling nose or upset stomach that you think is an allergy may actually be something considerably more serious. It could be that you are suffering from sick house syndrome. Your home could be making you sick.

Symptoms may include one or any number of these health warning signs: Headache, dizziness, stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, confusion or difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, sneezing, coughing, chest or sinus congestion, sore throat, difficulty breathing, sore or irritated eyes, muscle or joint stiffness and pain, fatigue, earaches, skin rash or itch, an inability to tolerate heat or cold, irritability or uncomfortableness, chest pain, or unusual heart palpitations.

It is the invisible things that we don't see that definitely can have harmful effects on your family. Be wise, be well, keep your home safe. Check your home to insure that you do not have high levels of radon gas being breathed in by you and your children. Change your furnace filter regularly to prevent dust and other small particulate from re-circulating within the home.

Children Can be More Vulnerable to Toxins than Adults

Causes of Indoor Air Pollution are Many

Such common products as household cleaners, varnish, paint, glue, and computer inks contribute to poor indoor air quality.

Household furnishings such as carpets, as well as the very construction materials that your home is made from, all release invisible and often times toxic gases into the air that you breathe.

Even storing these common everyday items within the home can add to the indoor pollutions levels within your house and increase the likelihood that your family may suffer from sick house syndrome.

You and your family may be breathing in formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, asbestos, lead dust, radon gas, mildew, mold, dust mites, bacteria, second hand smoke, pet dander, as well as other pollutants. You may not be able to see or smell these contaminants, yet they could be in your home, and making you sick.

If these contaminants do not have sufficient fresh air to dilute them to a relatively harmless state, then they combine with the multitude of other indoor pollutants, and pollute the indoor air of your home.

If your house does not have access to sufficient fresh air exchange then the indoor air within your home becomes increasingly more polluted. From there it is only a matter of time before you and your family begin to suffer the effects of sick house syndrome.

Pet Dander Can Also Contribute to Indoor Air Pollution.

Using an air purifier can help to remove dust and dander.
Using an air purifier can help to remove dust and dander. | Source

The 1973 Oil Embargo and Sick House Syndrome.

One might wonder what the 1973 oil embargo could possible have to do with sick house syndrome but the resulting energy crisis actually set a chain of events into motion which was to drastically increase the amount of people suffering from this syndrome.

With world wide oil shortages looming in the near future, the 1973 oil embargo helped push the price of oil higher. and government agencies into a new line of conservation practices. One of these was a new set of building standards code which was put in place to insure that buildings would be as energy efficient as they could be.

In the early 1900s and throughout the mid 1900s building standards code required 15 cubic feet of fresh air per minute per person for appropriate ventilation within buildings. New energy conservation measures were implemented in the 1970s that reduced the amount of fresh air ventilation within buildings.

The current 15 cubic feet per minute per person was reduced to a mere 5 cubic feet of air per minute per person. Newly constructed and renovated homes, offices, and schools, were to follow the new standards set out to insure that these buildings would be much more airtight.

It was the start of a new syndrome known as sick building syndrome.

The Age of Your Home Could be a Factor.

What Year was Your Home Constructed?

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It was the Stricter Building Code Standards that Brought this Health Issue to Light

It was believed that the new building standard codes would insure that buildings required less heating and cooling costs and so would therefore be more energy efficient.

What no one could foresee then was that these new building code standards rather than being of benefit during the oil crisis would instead served to trap bacteria and other pollutants within these buildings.

The trapped contaminants then had the opportunity to multiply and rise to dangerous levels. It was this contaminated indoor air which caused the people within these buildings to become ill.

The people who lived and worked within these newly renovated or newly built buildings began to complain of a number of health ailments. The air within these buildings was causing them to suffer from a strange new illness.

For most of the individuals who were initially exposed to sick building syndrome, their symptoms would disappear once they left the affected building, but for many their symptoms would last for a lengthy time after their initial exposure.

Houseplants Can be Helpful in Reducing Indoor Air Pollution

Venus Flytrap and Healing Aloe Plant.
Venus Flytrap and Healing Aloe Plant.

There are Things You Can Do to Help

  • Change your furnace filter regularly.
  • Use dust mite covers on your pillows and mattresses.
  • Install a carbon monoxide monitor.
  • Use an air purifier to help remove indoor particulate that may cause an allergy to flare. There are many styles and sizes of air purifiers available and most will fit right in with your rooms needs. Most do a very good job of helping to remove allergens and dust from the home so choosing one that suits your décor works ideally.
  • Test your home for Radon gas.
  • Instill a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Use green household cleaning products such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon, or a green tea solution.
  • Keep a window in your home open at least one inch summer, winter, spring, and fall.
  • Check for, and remove, mold or mildew from within your home.
  • Update your furnace, air conditioner, ventilation system and other household appliances.
  • Store paint, glues, varnishes, garden materials, and other household cleaning or construction materials in the garage or a storage shed rather than within your living space.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Lorelei Cohen

Are You Worried About the Air Quality Within Your Home?

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    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      16 months ago from Northeast United States

      Interesting :) I have seen some new homes warn that they are constructed with Formaldehyde and that it could cause breathing issues. While just touring the new home it made me feel a little sick. Did you know some flu shots are made with Formaldehyde ? House plants are a good idea to help, but I have been fearful to try them as any plant we ever had in the home was gnat infested plus I have bad allergies. I have switched to more natural non toxic cleaners :) they help. Have a wonderful day :)

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      With winter coming in the northern hemisphere maybe this problem should be checked out, as it could save a lot of money with doctor expenses.

      I don't know if my home is suffering with this syndrome, it is an old home.

      I found if I didn't feel very well I would get out and go for a walk, even in the rain, when I came back I would be all good and ready for anything.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      7 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I am certain my last apartment was sick. My roommate and I coughed a lot in the morning and often had sneezing or runny noses. After our move last summer, neither of us have had those symptoms much and I stopped having asthma attacks entirely. I haven't had a single one since the move. Even the cats used to have sneezing and coughing fits in the old apartment.

      A squirrel died in the wall right before we moved so maybe the toxin in that apartment was mold growing on squirrel urine and feces because a bunch of them were living in the walls.

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I am after reading this. My house is over 125 years old :(

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      @Kazee LM: Plus the most horrid part of it all is that the cleaning products we use in the home may actually be increasing the toxic fumes within the home.

    • Kazee LM profile image

      Kay Collier 

      8 years ago from Australia

      I think every home needs to look into this problem, I have always assumed because I'm fussy in all aspects of cleanliness, that it took care of everything, but it makes sense that all these hidden dangers lurk about. Thanks for a great informative lens, Ladymermaid.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      8 years ago from Canada

      @ChristyZ: I keep the kitchen and the bedroom open a crack all year (unless there are fires in the area lol). It sure helps.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Our home has some issues and we all suffer from dust and environmental allergies. I really need to invest in a good air purifier. I like the tip about leaving the window open all year long, that's an excellent idea.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      8 years ago from Canada

      @FanfrelucheHubs: I find now that many perfumes bother me as well. Air fresheners are just terrible for the pollution they put into the air. I can sure tell when I visit somewhere that uses these.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      8 years ago from Canada

      @aesta1: And people who live in apartments tend to store items in their domains that should be stored out in a garage. Paints, oil, etc leach fumes in their home.

    • Frischy profile image


      8 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      There are so many pollutants outside our homes as well as inside. I think air purifiers are just a smart idea. There are so many factors that can make us sick. Having the air cleaned can only help us!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      A glad you brought up this issue. We noticed that as we grow older, we get more sensitive to the quality of our environment so the more we need to do something to keep our house more livable.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      8 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Yes quality of air in my house is important, that's why I avoid all chemical cleansing products, I have lots of green plants (some are supposed to take care of some of the pollution. I have never used any of the air freshner because any perfume cause pollution and increase risks of allergy.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      8 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Good information. I think an air purifier would be a great item to have.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hmmm, looks like my attempt to bless in August didn't stick, now this one shows up on my dash...maybe we were in a black hole in August and didn't know it...alls well that ends well!

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 

      8 years ago from Connecticut

      The worse part of winter is keeping the windows closed to keep in the heat -- and all of those germs! We air out the house whenever we can, and burning Sage seems to help the inside atmosphere.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Stopping by again to sprinkle a little angel dust over this important article of sick house syndrome, this is such an important health issue. I can't help thinking of those FEMA mobile homes after Katrina.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @anonymous: My husband is a real pack rat so I have a heck of a time keeping the dust at bay. I keep an air cleaner running year round and windows open to help air things out a bit.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @shellys-space: I noticed that lately there is quite a bit of smoke in the air here and I like to keep a window open in the bedroom so it has been a bit of a problem this year. Don't know which pollution is the worst - indoor or outdoor pollutants?

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 

      9 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      I am not sure, but this year I have had worse allergies then any other time. We had an early Spring and mild Winter...I am from the Midwest and we usually have a pretty cold Winter.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      It is very important to live in a clean house and the air needs to be healthy. I love high roof well ventilated houses with big French windows. And yes, regular cleaning in the house is a must.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Well, yes! In my last home, we had lots of dust particles that accumulated in my closet ... there was a large return in the hallway ... I think it is a good thing to have the ventilation system cleaned regularly.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Air quality in the home is so important to have to decrease the chances of sicknesses. Very good information on the page. I have an air purifier that has an ozone generator also, and it purifies and freshens the air beautifully, next best thing to fresh air itself.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @GrinningFool: It is amazing how we often do not attribute the air within our home with being the cause of our health problems. Sick house syndrome is a real issue for many people. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    • Lady Lorelei profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorelei Cohen 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @anonymous: I have suffered from breathing issues for many years and living in healthy clean home air is very important. Many of today's modern homes still suffer from sick house syndrome.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      My Girlfriend just went through this in her co-op. Downstairs neighbor had a water leak that never got properly dried. Molded out and was causing my gf daughter to get sick over and over again. An air purifier helped but finally had to force the cleanup of the downstairs unit. Unpleasant but desperately needed.


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