Workplace allergies

by Sloane Miller Patient Advocate

Workplace allergy is real

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology as reported by the New York Times:
"Workplace allergy, specifically occupational asthma, accounts for about 10 percent of asthma cases in the United States ... Work-induced allergy is fairly simple to diagnose: the symptoms worsen as the workday progresses, and lessen after you leave. And you feel fine on weekends and vacations."

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). Sometimes I've had unexplained allergies, unexplained as there was no obvious triggers but my hunch was that the ventilation system was the culprit. But what to do?

As with many allergies, the best cure is avoidance, but unless you live or work in a bubble that isn't always practical nor is it always desirable. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over 250 workplace triggers for occupational asthma. Eek.
Some jobs are inherently riskier than others. For example, bakers often get baker's asthma; forest workers, carpenters, cabinetmakers are routinely exposed to wood dust; hairdressers have to contend with chemicals such as persulfate; health care professionals and latex allergies are well documented; and even seafood processors develop seafood allergies.

According to the New York Times article, "The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines for handling these and other substances, and masks, ventilation systems and exposure rotations go a long way toward reducing allergies at work. But some people suffer even with the best of practices."

Allergies as disabilities
Most surprising may be that, "Severe allergies fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable changes in the workplace to enable an employee to do the job. And allergies developed at work often fall under workers' compensation laws.
Now this is very interesting to me. However I suspect much like workplace bullying, severe allergies due to the workplace, especially places like your average cubicle (not a mill, or a chemical plant) are hard to prove and harder still to pursue legally.

Have your allergies forced you to change jobs? Or worse, have you had to file for disabilities because of your allergies?

See also:

Avoiding Fragrances, Odors and Irritants At Work

Sloane Miller
Meet Our Writer
Sloane Miller

Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, specialist in food allergy management and author, is founder and President of Allergic Girl Resources, Inc., a consultancy devoted to food allergy awareness. She consults with private clients, the healthcare, food, and hospitality industries, government and not-for-profit advocacy organizations. In 2006, Ms. Miller started Please Don't Pass the Nuts, an award-winning blog for and about people affected by food allergies. In 2011, John Wiley & Sons published Ms. Miller's book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well With Food Allergies, the definitive how-to guide. Ms. Miller combines a lifetime of personal experience and passion with professional expertise to connect with people about how to live safely, effectively, and joyously with food allergies.