Even though it’s still cold outside, the days are finally getting brighter and longer. Spring, with its promise of warmer weather, is around the corner. But for some people the signs of spring have a different meaning: allergy season! However, before allergy season has even begun, many people are already starting to experience allergy-like symptoms. Has pollen found a way to sneak in early this year, or could there be something else that is causing allergy symptoms?
The Sick Building
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) or Building Related Illness (BRI) are allergy-like symptoms that occupants of a building experience (whether living in a condo or working in an office tower) that are often from indoor air pollution. Relief of these symptoms is generally experienced upon leaving the building. Symptoms for both of these are similar to allergy symptoms such as headaches, itchy watery eyes, irritated nose and throat, which is why many people can mistake SBS/BRI symptoms for allergies. Additional symptoms can also include fatigue, sensitivity to odours, dizziness and difficulty in concentrating. The best way to distinguish if you have SBS/BRI or seasonal allergies is simply by going outside – after about 15-30 minutes outside people suffering from SBS/BRI will usually experience relief from these symptoms but people with allergies are worse outside.
What Causes SBS/BRI?
Over the past 30 years there has been an increase to build more environmental and high efficient buildings to reduce cooling and heating costs. Many of these building are very tightly sealed. At first most of these buildings were thought to be office towers but more and more condominiums have started the same trend, and unfortunately many of these sealed buildings have poor indoor air quality. Being indoors exclusively without going outside for fresh air will put you at risk for developing SBS/BRI. When winter is exceptionally cold (and long!) it is easy to understand why people are shutting themselves indoors from the chilly winter air.
Both the U.S.A. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Safety Council state that “Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building” and described the sources as “adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, copy machines, manufactured wood products, cleaning agents and pesticides may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions in some individuals.”
Sadly, our indoor environments can be much more polluted than our outdoor environments. But there are lots of things we can do to help clean up our indoor air.
Whether you have seasonal allergies or suffer from SBS/BRI here are our top 5 tips to help you find relief from allergy symptoms (Remember having healthy clean indoor air will allow your immune system to calm down and you will feel better no matter what you are suffering from):
1) Remove the source! New products like tables, chairs, desks, and carpets off gas the VOC’s for months and even years. Try to buy products with less glue, for example solid wood is better than composite wood that is glued together. Only buy low VOC paints and give the paint lots of time to off gas before you use the room. This is especially true for parents fixing up a room for a new baby. Another option is to buy used furniture or go to environmental stores like Earth Roots and search for low VOC products. For existing products that you have, open your window daily to allow fresh air in, and gases out.
2) With our lives being indoors (especially in the winter) one option to reduce SBS/BRI and/or allergy symptoms is to clean up indoor air. If your office allows you, there are great options for small room/office air filters – and this is a good idea for your home too. It’s important to look for a HEPA filter which is hands down the best air filtering system. Here is a link for a few filter options (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/10-small-air-purifiers-for-the-147835)
3) Greening up your space is another option, and plants make great desk mates. Plants are a powerful tool that clean our air, add oxygen to the air, and an additional bonus, there is research showing they improve our mood too. Some of this research even comes from NASA. In studying space travel in closed spaceship environments, NASA researched what are the best plants to clean indoor air space. We suggest reading the book called “Eco friendly house plants: 50 indoor plants that purify the air in homes and offices”, or checking out this website: http://www.zone10.com/nasa-study-house-plants-clean-air.html
4) Make sure you get as much outdoor time as possible. Try to avoid going to the concourse shopping plaza for food or alike, and take a minute to walk outside to get lunch. A quick 5 minute break outside has another benefit aside from fresh air: often the break and fresh air helps you clear brain fog and work more efficiently. It’s also a great way to avoid the headaches and other allergy symptoms.
5) Allergy avoidance – Whether you suffer from SBS/BRI or hay fever there are some immune support supplements that can help you reduce allergy symptoms. One example is high dose vitamin C that is paired up with bioflavonoids (I suggest quercetin). This acts as a natural antihistamine. Drinking lots of water is also important as it helps to flush out the environmental contaminants and maintains moist mucus membranes to help flush out pollen. There are a lot of herbs or nutrition supplements available that can be tailored to your specific needs. Contact your healthcare practitioner to see which ones are right for you.