Hay fever slams us every spring: Can't breathe; can't
think; can't even hear very well. Do you call in sick or drag your
fuzzy-brained self to the office? Or do you simply pop an allergy pill and get
on with your day?
Either way, American workers have long waged a battle with hay fever. Hay
fever is the fifth most common chronic disease -- topped by orthopaedic
problems, sinusitis, high blood pressure, and arthritis, according to the National Academy on an Aging
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
You catch a whiff of a co-worker's new fragrance, and within minutes, you
have a whopper of a headache.
You pop open that new bottle of dish-washing liquid, and by the time you've
washed the pots and pans, your hands and arms are covered in hives.
You walk into a friend's home and smell freshly baked pumpkin pie. Only
after you start sneezing uncontrollably and feeling dizzy, weak, and sick to
your stomach do you learn she hasn't been baking...
Ten years ago, nearly 7 million workdays were lost because of hay fever allergies, either through absenteeism or
"presenteeism" -- when workers show up but are less productive. The
total cost to employers was more than $600 million in lost productivity because
of allergies and taking sedating allergy medications at work.
"At that time, the nonsedating antihistamines were prescription drugs, and oftentimes expensive,
especially for people without drug coverage," says Ron Z. Goetzel, PhD,
director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Cornell
University Institute for Policy Research.
"That has changed over the last few years, now that Claritin -- and now the generic loratadine -- are available over the counter and less
expensive," Goetzel tells WebMD. "For people with hay fever who get the
right medicine and the right dosage, the amount of lost productivity has
dropped to almost zero. But if you're not taking medication -- or taking the
wrong medication -- there will be lost productivity."
For employers, the message is clear: They need to educate workers on allergy treatments, says Goetzel. Also, employers
should make sure health plans cover prescription medications if people don't
benefit from over-the-counter allergy drugs."
After all, for hay fever sufferers, the symptoms are no small matter.
"If you don't have allergies, you don't realize it -- but hay fever is more
than just a stuffy nose," says Karin Pacheco, MD, an allergist at the
National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. There are whole-body
effects that make it hard to function," she tells WebMD.