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Diagnosing and Solving IAQ Problems: What are the Symptoms?

Some symptoms or conditions suggest that certain causes are more likely than others are. Is the cause of the problem most likely to be a chemical source, a biological source, a lack of outdoor air, a thermal comfort problem, or not related to the building? In conjunction with the other information you obtain, use the table below to help narrow your first line of investigation. If the primary choice is not fruitful, go to the secondary choices.

 


                 Potential Cause


Symptom/Condition

Primary

Secondary

Comment

Cough, congestion, chest tightness, shortness of breath, fever, chills

Biological Chemical/particle
  • Check for microbial contamination in room/area, in the ductwork, in the cooling tower, or at the air handler
  • Check for mold

Diagnosed infection or allergic disease

Biological (none)
  • Obtain information about causes from diagnosis
  • Check for microbial contamination in room/area, in the ductwork, in the cooling tower, or at the air handler
  • Check for mold
Swelling, itching, skin rash
  • Biological (allergen) if small numbers involved
  • Chemical/particle if large numbers involved
  • Chemical/particle if small numbers involved
  • Biological if large numbers involved
  • Check for microbial contamination in room/area, in the ductwork, in the cooling tower, or at the air handler
  • Check for mold
  • Check for fiberglass contamination from insulation in ducts or around building envelope
  • Check for renovation/remodeling sources
  • Check for painting, adhesives, solvents, petroleum products in maintenance or housekeeping
  • Check for aerosol products, cleansers, waxes in housekeeping
  • Check major occupant sources such as printing, dry cleaning, hair salons etc.
Sinus headache Biological (allergen), e.g. pollen, mold Chemical particle Could be allergen outside or inside. If outside, consider increasing filtration efficiency
Wheezing, asthma

Asthma triggers

  • dust mites
  • animal dander
  • pests
  • tobacco smoke
  • mold
  • ozone
(none) For dust mites
  • Check dust mites

 

For animal dander

  • Clean all surfaces
  • Clean carpets and upholstered furniture

 

For cockroach or rodent allergens:

  • Institute or check integrated pest management procedures

 

For tobacco smoke

  • Ban smoking, or check adequate operation of smoking lounge

 

For mold

  • Check for mold

 

For ozone

  • Check information about outdoor ozone levels
  • Consider cleaning outdoor air brought into building
  • Check electrostatic precipitators or other electronic air cleaners which can produce ozone
  • Check for indoor ozone generating air cleaner

 

See other responses associated with biological pollutants

  • Mild discomfort in eyes, nose, or throat
  • Mild headaches
  • Generally not feeling well
  • Lack of outdoor air
  • Chemical/particle
  • Biological
  • Check outdoor air
  • Check thermostats
  • Monitor temperature, and relative humidity
  • Check for mold
Stuffy air
  • Lack of outdoor air
  • Temperature too high and/or relative humidity too high
Insufficient air movement
  • Check outdoor air
  • Check thermostats
  • Monitor temperature and relative humidity
Too hot
  • Temperature and/or relative humidity too high
  • Humidity too high
  • Lack of outdoor air
Insufficient air movement
  • Check thermostats
  • Monitor temperature and relative humidity
  • Local heat source/high radiant temperature
Dry air
  • Temperature too high
  • Humidity too low
  • Particle pollutants
Lack of outdoor air
  • Check thermostats
  • Monitor for temperature and relative humidity
  • Check for dust or other particle sources
  • Check housekeeping.
  • Check outdoor air

Odors

  • Musty
  • Stale air/body odor
  • Dirty socks
  • Petroleum
  • Chemical (metallic taste)
  • Mold
  • Lack of outdoor air/air mixing
  • Dirty coils/filters, lack of outside air
  • Sewer gas, drain traps, sanitary vents
  • Leaky tanks, spills
  • Cleaning products, pesticides, preservatives
  • Particles burnt on a hot surface
  • Check for mold
  • Check outdoor air
  • Check coils/filters; Check for mold in air handler
  • Check sewer gases, sewer line leak, soil air drawn from leach field, septic tank
  • Check fuel tanks for leaks
  • Check recent use of chemical products
  • Check for particles burning on heat exchangers or hot baseboard heaters/radiators

Diagnosing and Solving IAQ Problems: What are the Symptoms?

Created on November 21st, 2011.  Last Modified on October 2nd, 2014

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