Larissa Stouffer of Melrose, Mass., usually sneezes not once, not twice, but
three times. She sneezes as she gets into a car if it's sunny outside, but not
when it's cloudy; her dad does the same thing. And as soon as she pops some
mint chewing gum into her mouth, out comes an achoo.
Stouffer, 30, isn't the only one with a fickle nose. Many people sneeze at
peculiar moments -- such as after exercise, plucking their eyebrows, in the
sunshine, or after sex.
Here are the reasons why they sneeze...
"Allergy symptoms are the No. 2 reason adults miss work," says James
Sublett, MD, a board-certified asthma and allergy specialist in Louisville,
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
Get Allergy Tests
"Many people assume they know what triggers their allergies, but they
can be wrong," says Cascya Charlot, MD, a board-certified allergy and
asthma specialist who practices in Brooklyn, N.Y. "You can start managing
allergies by protecting yourself from allergens, but that's hard to do if you
don't know what your triggers are."
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."
If you have your own office, you can also bring in a portable filter for
that space, says Charlot. "That will help a little with light allergens
like pollen that hangs in the air or cat dander that hangs on clothes."
Other things to improve your office environment:
Ask to have carpet removed or replaced from your office or cubicle.
Turn on the air conditioning, which can help to clear out some
Avoid bringing soft items into your office, like pillows for your chair
seat or collectible stuffed animals. Allergens can collect on them.
If you see water damage in the office, ask to have it fixed -- mold can
Plan your schedule carefully. If you see that the forecast is for a high
pollen count, consider eating in the office cafeteria that day instead of going
out to lunch. And schedule outside meetings for later in the day, as the pollen
count tends to be highest in the early mornings.
If your allergies are mild, environmental measures may be enough to control
your allergies at work. But people with moderate to severe allergies usually
find that they need medication to control symptoms like stuffy and runny noses,
sneezing, and headaches. And those medications bring with them their own side
effects, and a new set of problems.