Are Allergies and Asthma Disabilities?

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • I've never thought of myself as disabled. I'm a person with asthma, not an asthmatic. However, there have been times when I wished that I had been afforded some protection, at the least some acknowledgement that allergies and asthma can sometime be disadvantageous.


    Like, in the workplace.

    I've blogged about allergies in the workplace before:
    "Have any of you experienced bad allergies or asthma but only in the workplace? I've worked in several different offices over the years and inevitably had to deal with a coworker's strong perfume or, even worse, construction work being done during working hours (painting, sawing, plastering etc)."

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    What I didn't say in that post was that in that particular incident, I was unable to stay at my desk due to the construction work being completed during work hours. I came to work each day only to leave before lunch because of flared up allergies, chest tightness and wheezing as a direct effect of the irritants being kicked up by the continuing construction work. Luckily my bosses were sympathetic and I was able to do some work from home for those week. I told HR, asked them for some assistance, told them I was unable to perform my job because of contrcutionw ork being completed during office hours. What did they do? The denied the work was even happening! Our Human Resources department, located in Texas (yes, for a New York City office), insisted that there was no work being done during work hours, while saws and hammers continued in the background of our phone call.


    Yeah, I'm still upset about it.

    Fragrances in the workplace are a common irritant and common compliant. Dr. Thomspon wrote a smart blog post about it:
    "Work place exposure to fragrance is very frustrating for millions of rhinitis and asthma patients. Some businesses have established fragrance-free policies. This is not enough for jobs that serve the public or have clients who wear fragrance. Fragrances may trigger symptoms that mimic allergy, including runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip, cough, headache and watery burning or itchy eyes. Asthma control may worsen after inhaling certain fragrances, leading to more cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The most common skin reaction to fragrance is a rash caused by direct contact (contact dermatitis). Severe reactions to fragrance can be life-threatening and may encompass all of the above symptoms."

    So what about our rights, those of us with allergies and asthma?

    Should those of us with allergies and asthma have disability status and protection?

    Recently, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America sent out an alert about the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R. 3195) which was introduced on July 31, 2008. "Over the last 17 years, the courts have narrowed the definition of disability to the point that people with asthma and allergies, and other conditions who manage their disabilities, are viewed as "too functional" to have a disability. Just because your asthma and allergies are mitigated with treatment does not mean that you should not be protected."


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    AAFA's talking points about this Act:
    • Throughout the last ten years, judicial decisions have excluded people who should be covered under the current ADA law.
    • Employers and disability groups agree that lawmakers must be addressed to secure the promise of the ADA and its effectiveness in protecting the rights of all persons covered under this important law.
    • As the courts' interpretations stand now, the ADA does not protect many people with asthma, allergies and other conditions who take medication to control their condition. Their employers can discriminate against them. This is simply not right.
    • Strict interpretations of the ADA hurt qualified workers who happen to have asthma and severe allergies and hurt employers, too. This is why AAFA and the employer and disability groups are working hard to make things right.


    What do you think?


Published On: September 09, 2008