As anyone who suffers from allergies can tell you, it’s absolutely no fun. The scratchy eyes, stuffy nose, and headache can, for many people, be the least of worries. The fact of the matter is that some allergies can be so severe as to be debilitating. Even if they don’t cause an anaphylactic reaction, they can interfere with your daily activities.
So, you do what you can to control your environment, you keep your house as free as possible of pet dander, dust mites, mold, or anything else you might be allergic to. Yet work is a different story. You can’t control your work environment. You may have to face allergens on a daily basis.
It’s an important issue for your employer, as well; allergies are one of the most common reasons people miss work. According to one study, allergy sufferers miss an average of an hour a week per year due to allergies. Around 20 million working Americans suffer from allergies, so you can begin to see the problem it can cause in terms of absenteeism and productivity.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to avoid having an allergic reaction while you’re at work:
1. Get thorough allergy testing.
You really need to start by knowing what exactly it is you’re allergic to right now. What you may not realize is that your immune system is likely to change over time. Just because you were allergic to something a decade ago is no guarantee that you’ll be allergic to it today. People can also develop new allergies, as well as maintain some throughout the course of their lives. By knowing exactly what you’re allergic to, you can begin to better control your environment.
2. Check for air filtration.
Most larger office buildings already have air filtration systems. However, if you work in a rural area or in a smaller office, you’re less likely to see such a system. Even changing the standard air filters in an office to MRV11 or MRV12 rating filters can provide significant improvements. It’s not a terrible cost for them, either; these filters will cost about an average of $.75 additional per week. The employer will more than recoup that in increased productivity.
If you can’t get anywhere with the building maintenance folks or your employer directly, consider bringing in a portable air filter. A HEPA filter can work wonders for a small office, especially if it’s enclosed.
3. Watch out for mold or dust mites.
If the carpet in your office or your cubicle is older and shows signs of wear, chances are it’s also full of allergens. Ask your employer to remove or replace your carpet, if possible.
If you notice any water damage anywhere in the office, talk to your employer about having it fixed. Water damage is a common source of workplace allergies. When left untreated, such sources of mold can be a cause of other workplace health concerns, even for those without allergies.
4. Minimize soft items in the office.
A pillow for your chair’s seat or even a stuffed animal can be a haven for dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens. Consider asking for an office chair that’s hypoallergenic, as well.
While you can’t control what’s in someone else’s office, you certainly can control what surrounds you while you’re at work.
5. Talk to your doctor about allergy medications.
If you have only mild allergies, you can usually control your symptoms by making some of these relatively minor changes to your work environment. If you have moderate to severe allergies, however, you may need more help.
Your allergist can recommend specific over-the-counter or prescription medications that can give you some relief from the symptoms of your allergies. Many people find that taking these medications on work days is enough to give them the little bit of protection they need.
If simple environmental changes or basic medications aren’t enough to keep your allergies under control at work, your doctor may want to consider more aggressive treatments. Immunotherapy – allergy shots – can prove to be a powerful aid in fighting workplace allergies, but only after everything else has failed.
Just because you suffer from allergies doesn’t mean you have to suffer at work. Make small changes on your own; talk to your employer about larger changes; and see your doctor to find out what kinds of medication or immunotherapy might be necessary to get things under control.
Dorothy Wheaton, PA-C, is the lead clinical provider for Careworks Convenient Healthcare a US company operating health clinics and urgent care centers in the Northeast United States.
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