‘Sick building syndrome’ causing workers to suffer from headaches, sore throats and troubled breathing

sick-building-1Working in an office has its downsides. For one, it leads to a sedentary lifestyle, which increases the risk for certain cancers and cardiovascular disease, as well as obesity, anxiety and depression. But working indoors all days may also cause other health problems. Not having adequate access to fresh or well ventilated air poses additional risks, which some workers in Abu Dhabi are experiencing.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is known for its lucrative oil exports and mega shopping centers.

Local reports confirm that dozens of office workers are having to visit the doctor frequently due to symptoms such as itchy eyes, sore throats, headaches, trouble breathing and skin problems. Doctors say the health problems are a result of “Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Poor ventilation in office buildings may lead to respiratory issues, stress and other health problems

Sick Building Syndrome is when a structure has poor ventilation, and as a result, increases the amount of dust particles, fungi spores and other airborne particles in the air. The condition leads to “unhealthy or stressful factors,” according to The National.

“Sick Building Syndrome is very common in the UAE and other fast-growing countries,” said Trilok Chand, a doctor specializing in respiratory medicine at Burjeel Hospital. The facility is the largest private hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“The reason is often poor ventilation in these buildings, while leaks and other water issues can carry bacterial infections such as fungus,” Chand told The National.

Chand, who sees about 12 patients a month suffering from respiratory issues, said Sick Building Syndrome is the most severe among individuals with asthma and others with preexisting lung conditions.

Work productivity harmed by unhealthy work environments, says doctor

“Such symptoms are common in my clinic. Patients explain how they feel better once they are outside their work building,” he said.

In addition to poor air quality inside some office buildings, Chand said other factors such as heavy workloads, stressful work environments and being on the computer for too long compound the symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome.

The aforementioned factors not only impact employees’ health, but also decrease work productivity, he added.

Evidently, Sick Building Syndrome is common in the United Arab Emirates, according to Dr. Lakshmi Chembolli, a dermatologist at Medeor Medical Centre, located in downtown Dubai.

“We are all behind closed doors and in a ventilated environment all day,” said Chembolli. “We do not have fresh ventilation, either at home or at work.

“It is of great importance in the UAE and it requires greater education. We need to be aware of it to observe and diagnose these problems, because they have big symptoms,” she said.

The disease can be especially harmful because people don’t know it is, and little is understood about in the medical community, said Chembolli.

“People don’t know what the problem is. They cannot relate to something that is invisible and odourless.”

UAE has poor air quality standards compared to western nations

She says action needs to be taken and standards raised regarding air quality in office buildings.

“We need to have an environmental protection certification for office buildings to certify that the ventilation quality is on a par with accepted standards.”

Chembolli points out that such standards exist in other places, so why not in the UAE?

“In America and European countries they have this in place, so we should try to have some guidelines in the UAE as well, because many people spend the majority of their life in an office,” she said.

Stressful work environments and office politics play a role, too, said Chembolli.

Employees may reduce spread of the disease by practicing good hygiene such as frequent hand washing with warm soap and water, said Dr. Hossameldin Saad, a specialist in pulmonary medicine at Medeor Hospital.

“Transmission of infectious respiratory diseases from one person to another can be greatly reduced by hand washing frequently with soap and warm water – one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.”

Staying home sick when you’re feeling ill is an important way to keep others in the office healthy, he added.