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Managing Allergies at Work

It's hard to sit through a meeting or make your way through a presentation when you're coughing or sneezing -- or drowsy from allergy medicine.

Allergies are one of the main reasons people call in sick. People with allergies say they can lose two or more hours of the workday when their symptoms are bad. But some people can miss as many as four days a week when their allergies are really bad.

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That doesn't mean you have to drag through your day at the office. There are three keys to coping with allergies on the job.

  1. Diagnosis. You need to know what triggers your symptoms so you know how to avoid them or the best way to treat them. Start with your doctor, who may send you to an allergist for testing.
  2. Environment. Do your best to clear your office of things you’re allergic to. Get rid of chair cushions that can attract dust mites. Bring in a portable filter for pollen or pet dander that may be hanging in the air. Make sure it's the right size for your workspace. Eat inside on days when you know the pollen count is high. Ask your office manager to consider high-efficiency filters (MRV11 or MRV12) for the air system and to replace carpet in your office or cubicle.
  3. Medicine. If you have moderate to severe allergies, you probably need to take medicine. First try treating individual symptoms -- like eye drops for itchy eyes or nasal sprays for congestion. You don’t want to use decongestant sprays you can buy at the drug store for more than three days in a row, however. Using them longer can actually make you more congested.

Antihistamines also help relieve symptoms like runny nose and itchy eyes. They come in pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops. Some have fewer side effects than others. Ask your doctor for suggestions.

The key is to start taking antihistamines early in the allergy season, not when your symptoms are full blown. Nasal corticosteroids are now available over the counter. Studies have found that using them prior to and during the pollen season can help easier control allergies.

If you don't feel better after trying over-the-counter allergy medicines, talk to your doctor about allergy shots. They take a much longer time to work but can help relieve symptoms in the long term.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Stanley M. Fineman, MD, MBA on October 23, 2014

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