Do you feel like you’ve had an endless cold or plaguing allergy symptoms no matter what the season? Do symptoms like nasal congestion and watery eyes seem to get better when you get home, on the weekends or during holidays? Consider that it could be your workplace that is making you sick.
Pollens, dust mites and molds are common allergy triggers, and when they get trapped in a poorly ventilated office building, these invisible allergens can have a notably negative impact on your health. Other potential triggers in the workplace that could be irritating your symptoms include: aerosols, pet dander, cockroaches, tobacco or wood smoke, fresh paint and other dyes, chemical fumes and perfume or scented products from co-workers.
While you have less control over your work environment compared to your surrounding at home, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. If you suspect that your workplace is contributing to your symptoms, here are some tips to protect yourself and help keep your congested nose in check.
Push for frequent cleaning and repairs: Carpets, furniture and even cubicle walls can harbor dust mites. Dusting your workspace with a wet rag or microfiber cloth can help minimize mites. A small HEPA air cleaner can also be useful to clean the immediate space right around your workspace. Take note of any condensation or wet spots around your workspace that could be contributing to mold and tell your employer about it.
Check the cleaning products: Some cleaning materials release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air that can irritate lungs and shortness of breath. Ensure your workplace doesn’t use plug-ins or aerosol air fresheners and look for cleaning products without VOCs.
Keep animals at bay: Even in a pet-free workspace, you can be exposed to animal dander carried on the clothes of employees. If you have a potential allergy to animals, avoid sharing workspaces with pet owners. Keeping a lint brush handy to tackle pet hair on clothing may also help.
Stay off the scents: Some fragrances can irritate nasal passages and provoke sneezing, itching or runny noses, as well as cause dizziness and fatigue. Consider letting an overly perfumed co-worker know about your issues. Or ask your employer to implement a scent-free environment.
Cure your car troubles: Your car could also be the culprit for your symptoms. “If one drives with the windows open, one is exposed to a lot of irritants as well as allergens depending on the season,” says Dr. Paul Keith, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. He suggests having the windows closed and a putting a pollen filter in the car intake valve to reduce pollen exposure. He also advises against any smoking in the car—even when you’re not in it.
Find some relief: Consider a natural-source nasal saline rinse made from sea water to help clear your congested nasal passages and add essential moisture.
Get professional advice: If your symptoms persist even after implementing some of these strategies, seek advice from an allergist to determine the specific cause of your symptoms. Then you can work with your employer to assure you avoid the substances that are potential triggers for making you miserable.