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Hay fever in the Workplace

May and June are typically the main months that those with hay fever hate the most - the peak grass pollen season. It is also the end of the time when tree pollens are most active.

An estimated 21 million people in the UK suffer from hay fever, or to give it its proper name, allergic rhinitis.

Allergy UK believe that some 5.7 million people suffer from it worse at work than elsewhere, particularly amongst office workers.

Symptoms include runny noses, sneezing, streaming eyes, an itchy bridge of the mouth (I always know it is hay fever because I instinctively rub the back of my mouth with my tongue), and drowsiness (a problem made worse by using older types of anti-histamine medication). Despite its name, having a temperature or fever is not a symptom.

Some people are confusing symptoms of hay fever with those of COVID-19. COVID-19 does not usually cause sneezing or sniffles. If in doubt seek medical advice.

A few years ago, Lloyds Pharmacy surveyed sufferers and estimated that 1.3 million suffered symptoms similar to a hangover, including irritability, nausea and dehydration.

Around 40% of sufferers take time off work as a result of it.

Drowsiness in itself when driving or operating machinery can be extremely hazardous, add in the other symptoms and you have a lethal cocktail for some workplace tasks.

So what can be done by employers to help their hay fever suffering employees?

  • In offices, keep windows closed for the first part of the morning and late afternoon.

  • Ensure the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units are well serviced.

  • Smooth or flocked flooring rather than carpet is best, as it keeps dust mites and mould spores at bay.

  • Plants in the office harbour moulds so regularly water them and regularly remove the top soil or cover it with pea shingle.

  • Regularly clean dusty areas, such as open book cases or shelves.

  • Regular cleaning, including the use of high efficiency particulate air filters in vacuum cleaners.

  • Keep desks clear, damp dusting them twice a week.

  • Sit people with hay fever allergies away from pet owners - they can bring pollen in off their animals on their clothes.

The good thing for hay fever sufferers at work at present is the increased cleaning and disinfecting taking place, due to COVID-19 means that pollen and spores are being removed.

As a hay fever sufferer myself, it goes without saying that if you are suffering, be careful what you are doing. If you are a sufferer, try and avoid using machinery, or doing work. where concentration is safety critical. Speak to your employers about any issues you have. The risks from hay fever at work are real, and should be controlled where possible.


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