Allergy Symptoms Hijacking Your Workday? 10 Things to Try

Allergies can make you exhausted, congested, and headache-y. Not exactly a recipe for a productivity and clear thinking. Here’s how to cope when allergy symptoms hijack your workday.

By Lauren Gelman from original
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    Too sick to go in?

    Allergies are the number two reason adults skip work, according to allergist James Sublett, MD, on WebMD, likely because they're tired from a poor night’s sleep. “Many allergy patients have sleep-disordered breathing due to nasal stuffiness and congestion—but may not even be aware of it,” says allergist Clifford Bassett, MD, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at NYU. “You could get the same number of hours of sleep as usual, but wake up feeling less rested.” The first key to feel better at work, then, is to control nasal symptoms so you can sleep better. “Patients who do this report more productivity and less drowsiness,” Dr. Bassett says. Here’s some more guidance.

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    Do yoga on your lunch hour.

    An Ohio State University study recently found a strong connection between stress and allergy symptoms. “Symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers, and may even be the root of stress for some,” study author Amber Patterson, MD, said in a press release. “While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms.” If yoga’s not for you, try another relaxing activity like listening to soothing music or taking a coffee break with a co-worker.

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    Tidy up your desk.

    Indoor allergies like dust may exacerbate symptoms of seasonal ones. Keep your work surface free of dust and stacks of clutter.

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    Stow saline spray in your desk.

    “This removes allergens that make their way into your nose throughout the day,” Lisa Sullivan, MD, an allergist in Glenview, Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

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    Invest in an air filter.

    If you have your own enclosed space and your symptoms seem to get worse at work, invest in a small HEPA air purifier to remove pollen and other allergens from the air.

    How to expose yourself to less pollen:

    Anything you can do to minimize your exposure on your way to work or during the day can go a long way to making you feel better. One surprising trick? Avoid hair gel, as it attracts pollen, says Dr. Bassett. He also recommends donning big sunglasses to keep allergens out of your eyes. On high-pollen count days, consider bringing lunch from home to avoid exposure on your lunch break. Pollen levels tend to be lower at the end of the day, which is a better time to schedule out-of-the-office meetings.

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    Be careful on your commute.

    Try to steer clear of as much pollen as possible. Drive with the windows up, and have your car’s air conditioner set to “do not recirculate,” recommends Dr. Bassett. If you have the option to leave your car somewhere covered, where it's less likely to be exposed to pollen, park there.

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    Keep on your meds.

    “People think of taking allergy medications when allergens get really bad, but the key is regular usage,” Dr. Sublett told WebMD. “If you really want to manage your allergy symptoms and be more effective at work, start at the very beginning of the season before things get out of control and keep using your medications throughout the seasonal symptoms.” Lack of routine is an issue, says Kathleen May, MD, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, citing patients who forget or are spotty with taking medication. “If you know you have a pollen allergy, it’s good to take meds regularly before allergy season starts to reduce the chance of breakthrough symptoms,” she says.

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    Watch what you take the night before.

    Many patients don’t realize that a sleep-inducing antihistamine like Benadryl at night can lead to hangover-like symptoms in the morning, says Dr. May. “People will tell us that they don’t think they’re affected, but you can’t always tell you’re impaired,” she explains. Many experts recommend non-drowsy antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. (These are the drugs that the Federal Aviation Administration allows pilots to use, notes Dr. Bassett.) If these aren’t doing the trick, ask your doctor about a steroid nasal spray, which specifically targets congestion.

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    Clue in your co-workers.

    If you’re a seasonal mess, let colleagues and clients know. Depending on your allergy symptoms, people could mistakenly think you’re contagious, which could be especially damaging in careers like human resources or sales. Dr. Bassett shared the outrageous story of a patient with bad eye allergy symptoms—red, watery, puffy—who was interviewing for a new job. At one meeting, a prospective boss advised her to “get off the drugs" because of her appearance.

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    End your day right.

    A good night’s sleep is key to having a good morning at work. Avoid dragging pollen into your home, and especially your bedroom: Leave your shoes outside or at least near the door, and change out of your clothes immediately. Shower and wash your hair at night to rinse away any lingering allergens that could wind up in your bed and spoil your sleep.

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