Is Bad Building Design Giving You a Headache (Literally)?


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We already know that artificial lighting and thermal comfort can influence health.

Worse, these aspects of building design, such as indoor air quality, can trigger Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) — when chemical exposure brings about fatigue, headaches, and other ailments.

Moving in the direction of wellness-centered architecture could have long-lasting impacts on public health and reduction of TILT, according to Dr. Claudia Miller, an environmental health professor and leader of the Hoffman TILT program at UT Health San Antonio.

“Although buildings are where we spend more than 90% of our time, strategies to promote the health and well-being of the occupants are not always a major consideration during design,” Miller told the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

How Buildings Can Endanger Your Health

Short-term exposures to indoor air pollutants can result in harmful health effects, according to the EPA.

There are numerous chemicals, substances found in buildings and homes that can initiate the development of seemingly untreatable symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle pain. These substances can include:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Building Design TILT
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Asbestos
  • Among other pollutants

Latinos, who face high rates of interior and exterior air pollution exposure, should be aware of the places they spend most of their time could be impacting their everyday health. Worse, fragrance spray companies selling VOC-products target the Latino community — which is a substantial purchaser.

“Some initiators and/or triggers lack any discernible odor,” Miller writes. “Other times these chemicals are masked by fragrances. Continuous exposure to an odor in a home, workplace, or community can lead to masking (olfactory adaptation/olfactory fatigue). This is when a person gets so accustomed to an odor that they no longer notice it.” 

Using Architecture for Better Health

Miller said one step to help reduce TILT triggers and initiators is rethinking the way people design and construct buildings.

“The goal of architecture should be to put doctors like her out of business,” Miller told the AIA.

There are a few key steps designers and constructors can take to improve building quality, such as:

  • Reduce artificial lighting by using natural sunlight
  • Chose VOC-free products for furniture, paints, etc.Building design VOCs
  • Use design to promote people’s connection to nature

Focusing on developing wellness-centric buildings will improve people’s lives, and have the potential to create a better home, professional atmosphere.

For those who identify with TILT symptoms, the researchers at Hoffman TILT developed the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI) and Brief Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (BREESI). These internationally verified surveys can help identify symptoms and potential exposures.

Reducing environmental exposure can also help lead a healthier life. Miller recommends removing fragrance products, reducing dust, and using chemically-free cleaning alternatives.


Find out more about chemical toxins and their impact on the public!

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our “Building for Holistic Health” series!

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America! and the Hoffman Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) program at UT Health- San Antonio. To find out if you are TILTed due to exposure to everyday foods, chemicals, or drugs, take a self-assessment or learn more about TILT.

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