Autumn has arrived, and you don’t feel so good. You can’t stop sneezing and sniffling. The return of cool weather leaves you feeling not invigorated but miserable.
What’s going on? You may be suffering from pollen allergy, a.k.a. allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Thirty million Americans do, and symptoms typically flare in fall.
Like all allergies, hay fever stems from a glitch in the immune system. Instead of attacking harmful foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses, it tries to neutralize...
"Allergy symptoms are the No. 2 reason adults miss work," says James Sublett, MD, a board-certified asthma and allergy specialist in Louisville, Ky.
The average worker with allergies misses about one hour per week over the course of a year. But that sick time is often concentrated during peak allergy periods. An Ohio State University study showed that allergy sufferers can miss up to 32 hours of work in a week when allergens are at their peak. And with 20 to 50 million Americans suffering from some form of seasonal allergies, all that lost work really adds up.
The effect of allergies at work has been called "presenteeism" -- being at work, but out of it. A 2001 study in a telephone call center found a significant correlation between spiking pollen counts and decreased productivity -- about 10% -- for workers with allergies.
How Can You Manage Allergies at Work?
Experts recommend a three-pronged approach that includes:
Diagnosis must come first -- even if you think you already know what you're allergic to.
Get Allergy Tests
"Many people assume they know what triggers their allergies, but they can be dead wrong," says Cascya Charlot, MD, a board-certified allergy and asthma specialist who practices in Brooklyn, N.Y. "You can start managing allergies by avoiding exposure to certain allergens, but this can be challenging if you don’t know what you are allergic to."
Once you've seen an allergist for an accurate assessment of your allergies, it's time to figure out how to minimize exposure to the allergens. That's easier to do if you're at home, where you control the environment. But there are things you can do at work to try to keep allergens at bay.
Manage Your Work Environment to Limit Allergens
"Many large office buildings already have air filtration systems, but smaller offices are more likely to have problems," says Sublett. "You can ask your office manager if they could change the filters in their air systems to high-efficiency filters -- MRV11 or MRV12 filters have the best rating. If they change them out every three months, it costs about 50 cents to a dollar per week, which is pretty inexpensive."