Second only to the common cold as a source of missed work days, workers with allergies lose an average of one hour per week yearly and up to 32 hours a week in peak allergy season. In “Managing Your Allergies at Work,” Regina Wheeler reports that an “estimated reduced productivity due to allergies costs U.S. companies more than $250 million a year.”

Some jobs present obvious irritants for allergy sufferers. Carpenters, construction workers, farmers, textile workers, landscapers and miners all must work in environments unfriendly to allergy sufferers. However, even office workers can experience increased problems with allergies while at work.

Unlike at home where a person can more freely modify the environment, the work environment does not always allow for that sort of adaption. So what can workers do to find relief from allergies and still remain productive?

5 Tips for Allergy Relief at Work

  1. Find the root cause. The best way to find the source of allergies is to see an allergist. His expertise partnered with an individual’s investigative work provides the best approach for determining the source of allergies. Keep in mind that while allergens may in fact be the culprit, irritants like chemicals, latex, and fragrances may also be the cause and have similar symptoms.
  2. Reduce allergens. In the workplace, reducing allergens can mean making extra effort to keep your work area free from dust and using a HEPA filter. It can also mean avoiding having soft items like cushions or pillows around since allergens tend to collect on them. Keep in mind that old carpeting can also be a source of allergens and may need replaced. For some, especially those in highly-irritating environments, respirators make a major difference for reducing exposure, while others must simply change products used (switching to latex-free gloves, for example).
  3. Find the right treatment. In “Managing Allergies at Work,” Gina Shaw suggests getting allergy testing to determine the source, finding the right medication, and being proactive with treatment. Working as a team with a physician or allergist can make all the difference, and the solution often consists of a combination of approaches.
  4. Communicate. Tell employers about allergy problems. In many cases, they’ll partner in finding solutions. For example, employers may ask the cleaning crew to change products used, or they may turn on the air conditioning during peak allergy season. In addition, talk to coworkers about allergies and irritants. They may not realize that they bring pet dander from home to the workplace or that their open window or scented candle causes problems for a coworker. When informed, most coworkers will likely do their best to help eliminate or at least reduce the problem.
  5. Trust the Process. Before making any drastic move like a job change, give the process above a chance to work. Keep going through it until the right combination of solutions is reached, and make sure this happens in conjunction with a physician or allergist. Fortunately for most, doing so will lead to solutions for managing allergies at work and maintaining high levels of productivity.

Only so much of a person’s work environment falls under an individual’s control. When the above process fails to work, some find a change of work to be in order. But this should be the last resort. Before taking that step, consistently work through the steps above, do additional research, and look for creative ways to modify the environment and limit exposure. Doing so will bring adequate allergy relief for the vast majority of workers.