Depending on where you work, you may be exposed to hundreds of substances that can cause nasal allergies and other respiratory problems. Some of the most common on-the-job allergens that cause allergic reactions are dust mites, mold spores, cockroaches, as well as animals' dander, urine, and feces. Workers can also become sensitized to a variety of other substances that can cause an allergic reaction.
Substances That Can Cause Allergy Symptoms
Many substances found in the workplace are irritants that don't produce a true allergic reaction but trigger the same kind of symptoms as allergies. A few of the more common substances include:
- acid anhydrides (employees in the adhesive or plastic industries)
- aluminum dust (aluminum handlers)
- animal proteins such as dander, urine, and feces (animal workers)
- cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke (all workers)
- cotton fibers (employees in cotton mills)
- colophony (employees in metal and electronics industries)
- cromium, cobalt (cement workers)
- formaldehyde (those who work with carpets, fabrics, or fiberboard)
- formalin, fluorocarbons (beauticians)
- fumes from paints, solvents, cleaning agents, or photocopiers (all workers)
- grain dust, grain weevils (bakers, millers, grain workers, dock workers)
- green tea (employees in tea processing or packaging plants)
- glues (bookbinders)
- insecticides (pesticide workers, gardeners, fumigants)
- latex (healthcare workers)
- organophosphates (pesticide workers)
- papain (employees in meat processing plants or breweries)
- platinum salts, acids (employees in jewelry or refining industries)
- polyvinylchloride (meat wrappers or grocers)
- pyrethrum (employees in fumigation, insect extermination, or gardening industries)
- reactive dyes (beauticians or textile workers)
- toluene disocyanate (auto body spray painters)
- trypsin (employees in drug, chemical, or plastics industries)
- wood dust (woodworkers, builders)
What to Do About Allergy-Causing Substances at Work
If you suspect your allergy symptoms are caused by allergens at your workplace, take these actions.
- Identify the substance that is triggering your allergies.
- Talk with your supervisor. He or she may help you learn how to resolve the problem.
- Keep your work area uncluttered. Piles of papers, books, and files are collection spots for dust and molds.
- Dust regularly. Use a damp cloth to remove dust from your workspace.
- Request that the air exchange system in your building be checked. In many cases, improving the air quality and circulation reduces symptoms.
- Use a HEPA-type tabletop air purifier. This can help keep the air around your workstation clean.
- Ask coworkers not to smoke around you. Cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke can aggravate your allergies. If your workplace doesn't have a no-smoking policy, talk with your supervisor or union representative about creating one or at least having smoke-free areas.
- Talk with OSHA or your union representative. Ask about respiratory equipment such as dust masks.
- Consider changing jobs. If you know you have an allergy to a workplace substance and you can't escape exposure to it, talk with your supervisor about a job change. Or consider another line of work.
For more information about allergies and allergy relief, see the next page.