For those in cold climates, the approach of spring is a welcome relief, unless you suffer from allergies. Sneezing, wheezing and runny eyes can make it tough to get through the work day, causing lost focus and productivity. The American Academy of Asthma and Immunology says 10 to 30 percent of the population suffers from allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal airways caused by breathing in allergens).
"Allergies are among the top three reasons people miss work, and can have a significant effect on productivity, so it's very important for business owners to recognize that they should do some simple things that can reduce overall exposure to allergens and other irritants," says Dr. James Sublett, allergy specialist at the Family Allergy and Asthma clinic in Louisville, Ky. Protect your workplace with these easy steps:
1. Control dust mites. One of the most common allergens in homes, dust mites are often passively carried form home to the workplace. "Eggs can be carried into the office environment on clothing," says Sublett. Carpets, upholstered furniture and even cubicle walls may harbour dust mites. Requesting frequent carpet cleaning and dusting your work area with a microfiber cloth or wet rag can help reduce dust mites in your work area. Sublett recommends installing a small HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) cleaner to clean the space around your immediate work area.
2. Reduce animal allergens. Even if you work in a pet-free building, you may be exposed to cat and dog hair. "Pet hair is carried on clothing and becomes part of the indoor environment," says Sublett. If possible, avoid placing allergy sufferers and pet owners in the same workspaces and provide hair removal rollers at the office.
3. Protect against seasonal allergens. "Pollen can enter the workplace through ventilation and opening and closing of windows," says Sublett. Ensure your office has good air filtration. Sublett recommends changing air filters and maintaining heating and air conditioning systems twice a year.
4. Reduce environmental hazards. Cleaning fluids and air fresheners release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. These fumes can irritate lungs causing respiratory distress and shortness of breath. Avoid using plug-ins and aerosol air fresheners and switch to cleaning products with no VOCs.
5. Encourage employees to get an allergy test. "You may think you know what triggers your allergies, but you may be wrong," says Sublett. Managing allergies requires knowing what your triggers are. Sublett gives the example of a client who thought she was working in a building that was full of mold, dust and poor air quality, but allergy testing showed it wasn't the building -- she was allergic to cat hair. Her runny nose and itchy eyes were a result of her allergies being triggered by her cat-owning co-worker who had carried her pet's hair to the office on her clothing. Consult with a certified allergy specialist to do an accurate assessment of your allergy triggers.
6. Change your allergy medication. While antihistamine medication may ease allergy symptoms, they can also have you falling asleep in the boardroom. Sublett recommends taking a non-sedating antihistamine or asking your doctor about getting an allergy shot which may provide longer-term relief without the drowsy side effects.