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Health risks that are lurking in our homes and offices

Feeling under the weather indoors? You might be suffering from Sick Building Syndrome. Kate Whiting finds out more

Have you heard of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)? No, it doesn't refer to houses that are more than a bit run down - however, it does mean your house could be making you feel run down.

The theory is that unseen chemicals found in everyday household products in our homes could be to blame for making us feel less than great, and even making us ill.

Whenever you remove your nail varnish, clean out the oven, de-ice the car, or even sit on the sofa with a cup of decaf coffee, you're exposing yourself to these chemicals, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are believed to cause SBS.

And according to research by The Wool Room, furniture polish and antibacterial cleaners are only getting rid of 50% of these harmful toxins.

WHAT EXACTLY IS SICK BUILDING SYNDROME?

It's thought that spending time in certain buildings, most commonly open-plan offices, can result in a range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, eye and skin irritation - which then improve when you leave the building.

WHAT ARE THE HARMFUL CHEMICALS?

Xylene

Found in: insecticides and pesticides

Can cause: Nose/throat irritation, loss of co-ordination, liver damage

Benzene

Found in: car emissions, detergents, paint, medicine bottles, printer ink

Can cause: Headaches, rapid, irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness

Methylene Chloride

Found in: Decaf coffee

Can cause: Memory loss, headaches, damage to the nervous system

Toluene

Found in: Furniture, colouring pens, paint thinner, bath mats, moisturisers

Can cause: Dry, cracked skin, nausea, nervous system damage

Acetone

Found in: Nail polish remover, conditioners, pre-soaks, textile finishes, flea/tick treatment

Can cause: Dizziness, respiratory tract irritation, eye irritation

HOW CAN I REDUCE MY SYMPTOMS FROM VOCS?

The health service recommends opening windows regularly to lower the temperature and provide all-important ventilation, having regular breaks for fresh air if you're at work, eating healthily and exercising regularly.

The Wool Room research has also found that woollen fibres in bedding and other furnishings can absorb 80-87% of formaldehyde from the surrounding environment, so it might be worth switching to a woollen duvet.

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