Monday mornings back at work are hard enough, not least when you’re feeling under the weather – and coughs and colds are certainly rife at this time of year. But what if we told you that it’s not necessarily a winter bug that’s making you feel poorly and that perhaps you’re one of the millions of Brits that’s allergic to their workplace? Yes, it’s possible! A 2012 report from leading national charity Allergy UK found that over 5 million people in the UK could be allergic to their office.
Allergy symptoms are typically very similar to symptoms of a cold and can include sneezing, itchy eyes and a blocked or runny nose. Doctors refer to this as allergic rhinitis; put simply, inflammation of the inside of the nose. Allergies are actually an immune response to a usually harmless substance and not everyone suffers to the same degree, but, in general, indoor allergies are on the increase. The report suggests that by 2015, 50% of Europeans will have some form of allergy.
What’s to blame?
“The reason why allergic reactions are becoming more common remains uncertain,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and author of Cut Your Stress. “But likely culprits include: over-cleanliness, which reduces your exposure to bacteria that prime immunity (especially in early life); exposure to house dust mites; being overweight, which promotes inflammation; reduced intakes of omega 3 fish oils, which dampen down allergic reactions, plus over-consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils, which promote allergic responses; and climate change, which encourages trees and grasses to release more pollen.”
The trouble is, some of the most common allergens that provoke a reaction – dust mites, pollen, pet dander (skin flakes) and mould spores from plants – are airborne allergens, so there’s no getting away from them, particularly in a communal workspace. And while 95% of the people surveyed by Allergy UK said they had experienced symptoms of allergies in the workplace, 27% said the symptoms actually got worse at work. Given the amount of time we spend in our work environments, this is a worrying statistic.
What can we do?
In its survey, Allergy UK found that in the 12 months prior to being surveyed, 42% of workers had taken time off due to their allergy, which undoubtedly has a knock-on effect on overall productivity. So what’s the answer? Here’s how to limit your exposure to the most-common allergens.
House dust mites: These tiny little creatures are found in bedding, soft furnishings, carpets and outer clothing. The mites don’t actually cause a reaction, it’s the proteins in their droppings which cause us to react. To limit your exposure to them, Allergy UK recommends keeping your desk clutter free and damp dusting twice a week. Solid flooring where possible can also keep mites at bay, although we realise this is something you’re unlikely to have control of.
Mould spores: Plants can harbour mould, which releases allergy-provoking spores into the air. To avoid mould, plants must be regularly watered and their top soil removed, or they can be covered with pea shingle. Alternatively, why not try swapping out potted plants for fake flowers to avoid this altogether?
Pets: The allergens from pets are not found in their fur, but in their saliva, dander and urine. As animals regularly groom themselves, they coat their skin and fur with the allergen, which then dries and releases into the air and is easily transported via other people’s clothing. This means that if you’re working alongside someone who has pets, they will probably be carrying allergens on their clothing that could irritate an allergy sufferer.
Pollen: Tiny particles of pollen are the cause of hay fever, typically at its peak in the summer months. Pollen settles easily on hair and clothing, so Allergy UK recommends showering after exposure to high levels of pollen. There are also hay fever remedies you can use. HayMax barrier balm (£6.99, boots.com) is a natural remedy, used for combatting allergies to pollen and pet dander. Applied around the base of each nostril, it traps the allergens before they enter the body.
Treating the symptoms
If those pesky allergens have already got the better of you, don’t despair – the symptoms can be treated. “One of the most effective ways to relieve nasal congestion is with a sterile seawater nasal spray such as Sterimar Hypertonic Congestion Relief (£7.99, boots.com).” says Dr Brewer. “You could also try white petroleum jelly, Nasaleze cellulose powder (£7.95, nasalize.com), Haymax Balm or Prevalin Allergy spray (£9.99, boots.com). Apply a barrier inside the nostrils so that pollen grains, dust mite and animal allergens are less likely to come into contact with histamine-releasing cells to trigger stuffiness and sneezing.
“Alternatively, vitamin D and probiotic supplements can help to prime the immune response against allergens. Finally, for an effective antihistamine that reduces allergy symptoms, try Benadryl Allergy Liquid Release Capsules (£4.99, boots.com).”
For further help, advice or more info, visit allergyuk.org
This article first appeared in Women’s Fitness
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