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Symptoms linked to indoor air quality deemed multifaceted

20 Feb 2019, 19:21 ( 3 Months ago) | updated: 21 Feb 2019, 05:02 ( 2 Months ago)

DF Report
City of Helsinki by Veikko Somerpuro.

Indoor air surveys conducted among building users in the country are often interpreted to measure the condition of buildings and the amount of indoor air pollutants, said the National Institute for Health and Welfare-THL in a press release.

While the perceived symptoms provide valuable additional information for the management of indoor air problems, renovation decisions must be primarily based on evidence on the condition of the buildings.

The specialists of the National Institution for Health and Welfare wrote about the topic in their article published in the Ympäristö ja terveys [The environment and health] journal published on 18 February.

Buildings can also not be simply divided into “healthy” and “sick” ones based on people’s symptoms or perceived indoor air quality, as in all buildings users experience more or less symptoms and are exposed to different factors to some degree. For instance, nearly all buildings will have some degree of microbial damage at some point of their life cycle. Moreover, a building where no one experiences symptoms does not exist. It is obvious that indoor air problems must be prevented and any detected issues quickly intervened in. 

Misconceptions related to indoor air and using perceived symptoms as an indicator of indoor air pollutants undermine rational management of indoor air problems. In the worst case scenario, the wrong buildings are renovated instead of those with conditions most detrimental to health.

Symptoms associated with indoor air also cannot be used as a direct indicator of indoor air impurities because many individual and communal factors also contribute to the symptoms.

“The situation is highly similar with all symptoms and illnesses: the symptoms only very vaguely reflect the severity of the measured exposures or disease. Nonetheless, symptoms are always real and downplaying them benefits no one, neither those trying to solve the indoor air problem nor the people experiencing the symptoms’’, said Research Professor Juha Pekkanen.

Indeed, the situation of those experiencing symptoms in indoor environments should be improved. There are deficiencies and development needs in care and service paths, diagnostics and treatment, supporting people with symptoms, social security, and rehabilitation.

”The causes of the symptoms must be determined, and those experiencing symptoms and illness must be helped. The measures sometimes target the environment, sometimes the person experiencing symptoms, and often both. The knowledge and skills of health professionals in encountering patients with symptoms in indoor environments must also be updated”, said Chief Physician Jussi Lampi.

The current approaches for managing and assessing the health effects of poor indoor air also leave room for improvement. The Indoor Air and Health Programme coordinated by the National Institution for Health and Welfare aims to focus on the health and welfare of people, and to introduce new approaches and solutions to problem situations based on best research knowledge.