Understanding Workplace Allergies

Chemicals in office buildings and inadequate air circulation may trigger allergies at work.
Chemicals in office buildings and inadequate air circulation may trigger allergies at work.

Sick of work? Most of us joke that we are. But some people literally become sick at their workplace, suffering from a condition called "sick building syndrome." This article will look at the allergies you contract from your work environment.

The Office as Incubator

In an effort to conserve energy, modern office buildings are built as tight as tombs, often with inadequate fresh air circulation. Allergens and irritants fill the air with no place to go. Carpet-cleaning solvents leave irritating chemical residues. Fiberglass or other particles in the air bother eyes. Mold spores, freely circulating in the moist, continually running air-conditioning units, annoy sensitive noses. And, if co-workers have pets at home, there might even be animal dander floating in the atmosphere.


Enclosed office spaces aren't the only workplace susceptible to environmental problems. Many professionals and trades people, because of the chemicals they work with, also are prone to environmental allergies, whether they work indoors or out.

Professions that are susceptible to allergy include:

  • Industrial workers handling paints, chemicals, solvents, and plastics
  • Beauticians, who constantly work with hair dyes, hair perms, and nail polish and polish removers
  • Farm workers dealing with fertilizers and pesticides
  • Photocopier technicians working in enclosed offices with machines and papers that emit potentially harmful gases.
  • Medical professionals, who can become sensitized to latex (in surgical gloves)
  • Bakers, who can suffer from flour or wheat allergies, dubbed "baker's rhinitis" in honor of the most common victims.

Environmental Allergen Symptoms

Symptoms depend on what you're exposed to, how much of it, how often, and for how long. They can include itching and burning eyes, rashes, sore throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Factors that contribute to susceptibility include your age, a history of allergies, your general health, and your overall level of stress.

Environmental allergies are difficult to pinpoint and harder to avoid. You can't just stop going to work.

Are Your Allergies Work-related?

Some detective work might offer clues about whether or not you're allergic to a work environment.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When do the symptoms start and when do they stop?
  • Do symptoms start in a certain area (the copier room, for example) or when I am performing a specific job?
  • What are the symptoms like on weekends or on vacation? Bring your observations (not conclusions) to your doctor.

"Sick building syndrome" is not a common occurrence. But if you start experience allergic symptoms, it is best to identify if it's your workplace that's causing the problem.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.