I seem to be allergic to work.
September 24, 2013 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Ok, joking aside, why am I always sneezing and sniffling while at work, and nowhere else? Am I allergic to something here? And if so, what can I do about it?

So this spring I noticed that, whenever I'm in my office, I'm sneezing and sniffling like crazy. I figured it was just allergies but.... six months and two season changes later, it's still happening. It doesn't happen outside the office or during the weekend. So basically it's like I'm sick 8 hours out of every day. Every day, someone asks if I'm "coming down with something". It really, really sucks.

I've worked here for years and never had this problem before. The only thing I'm allergic to is cats, and none of my coworkers have cats. There's no construction going on in my office. I'm in NYC. My office isn't particularly dirty or dusty. No one wears strong perfume. I drink water all day and bring my lunch from home. I'm otherwise a healthy person who gets sick maybe once a year in the winter. I'm completely at a loss here. It's so bad. I feel like I"m always sick but I swear I'm not! Help!
posted by Everythingsalrighteverythingsfine to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I bet you're allergic to more than just cats. When was the last time you went to an allergist? Have you ever been to an allergist? Go to an allergist! Go to an allergist and get a scratch test. Get some drugs tailored to your specific allergen needs.

I went to one after thinking, ok, I have a few seasonal allergies, but why am I sniffly in my office all the time? And it turns out it's because I'm allergic to everything! Even the air! Even you, probably!

But now I'm on loratidine and Singulair and I've totally made histamines my bitch. No more sniffling.
posted by phunniemee at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went for the scratch test, and discovered that I'm allergic to trees, grass and flowers. Yay!

I live in a perpetual fog of allergies. I stopped taking anything for them because they don't work. So I just deal with it.

Get tested.

Also, it could be mold. Or sick building syndrome.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2013

What phunniemee said. Turned out to be that the building was pretty dirty because it was simply old and not really well cleaned (generic burn through vacuums) and I'm pretty sensitive to all the teeny things. Ended up on a prescription allergy med every day (low dose) and a cough suppressant when needed.
posted by tilde at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2013

Is there any way of checking if something's different with the AC or ventilation system?

I've had allergies all my life and just recently discovered a new routine that helps a lot: first I clean my nose with saline spray and blow my nose, then I squirt a little bit more saline spray and let it slide down my nose/throat and finally I rub a tiny bit of vaseline or aquaphor inside my nostrils. Feels a lot better during the day.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maintenance may have changed something. The carpet cleaner, the floor polish, the curtains...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2013

Response by poster: The building was built 8 years ago so it's fairly new. We've had the same HVAC guys and maintenance guys the whole time, but I've only had these symptoms the past six months or so. I will ask the super if he's changed any cleansers etc. recently.

I've never been to an allergist! I guess I should go see one. I'm worried they're going to say I've suddenly become allergic to dairy or gluten in which case, I will die/starve to death.
posted by Everythingsalrighteverythingsfine at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2013

Scratch tests don't test for dairy or gluten (just the respiratory allergens, food allergies are tested in a completely different way in my experience), so that's no excuse. Go get tested!
posted by joan_holloway at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2013

Oh my gosh! I AM you! Literally, as soon as I sit down at my desk I start to sneeze.

It's absolutely the weirdest thing ever.

I have 2 boxes of tissues at my desk at all times and my boss says "Bless You" on the first sneeze of the day and then never again.... it gets pretty annoying for both of us.

I am resigned to the fact that I'm just super allergic to a lot of stuff now that I wasn't allergic to before. I'm toying with the idea of having my allergies tested but i just have more important things to worry about right now.

One thing that has made a difference (slightly!!) is disinfecting my office phone and keyboard randomly. Not every day but once a week maybe.

Good luck... sorry I don't have any better advice, I just wanted you to know you're not alone!
posted by JenThePro at 2:02 PM on September 24, 2013

Have you tried taking an OTC antihistamine? Do any of them help?

There are several: loratidine, ceterizine, fexofenadine, and of course the knock-you-out-but-always works Benadryl.

The first three are modern drugs meant to be non drowsy, ymmv. The last will make you fall over , so don't take it if you have to drive/operate heavy equipment/be otherwise functional. But personally I would try the first three first before seeing an allergist. If none of them help even a bit, might not be allergies anyhow. Do realize that at least loratidine and ceterizine are cumulative; so you should take them regularly for a few days or a week or so before you declare them useless. Anyhow if none of the first three do anything, you could try benadryl once at the end of a day when someone else can get you home. If none of these help, you either have weird body chemistry, or it isn't allergies.

not a doctor, but a fellow allergy sufferer.
posted by nat at 2:08 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is your office sunny? Could you be having problems with light triggered sneezing (ACHOO syndrome)?
posted by srboisvert at 2:27 PM on September 24, 2013

Ok, joking aside,

Heh - this is actually a thing, though. How is your work experience? Are things more stressful at the moment? Even if you're otherwise fine outside of the office, it's amazing how being in a stressful environment can run your body down while you're in that environment.

Otherwise, as far as I know, allergies aren't really static. So you could have developed something recently that you've never had before. Or, yeah, someone may have changed the brand of something they've been using.
posted by heyjude at 2:34 PM on September 24, 2013

I have at least one New Yorker friend who suddenly noticed weird new allergy symptoms this year, post-Sandy.

Is it possible that there's mildew, mold, or water damage to your office that isn't bad enough to have been a priority in the immediate aftermath of the storm?
posted by Sara C. at 4:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nat, over-the-counter stuff DOES work great for me (I've taken both Loratidine and Benedryl) but.... I hate the idea of taking medicine every single day of my life. I really try to only take it if I'm absolutely desperate or have an important meeting or something.

Heyjude, my job IS crazy stressful... but then it's always been, so it's not a new development :)

My office wasn't flooded or anything during the hurricane, but it's definitely possible that we have some mold/dust situation going. But I don't see how I could fix that. What if I put a little fan on my desk to increase air flow?
posted by Everythingsalrighteverythingsfine at 6:25 PM on September 24, 2013

My workplace evokes a similar allergic reaction in me, because it's dirty/dusty and never cleaned, and because the air is extremely, extremely dry. I don't know if a fan would help your situation, though. You could just be blowing the awful little allergic particles around.

I hate the idea of taking medicine every single day of my life.

I hear that, but I wouldn't function if I didn't take antihistamines pretty much every day. It sucks, but it's necessary.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2013

you could try an air filter - I have one similar to this and I find it helps. That model is good because it's really quiet, and the filters last a long time - some can be noist and need new filters all the time, so be careful what you get.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:50 PM on September 24, 2013

Ah, ok, good to know that the drugs work, then. I do understand about not wanting to take a pill though; unfortunately mine are bad enough I don't really have a choice. In this case you want to try to get environmental control, which yes, is easier if you know what you're reacting to.

How enclosed is the space you work in? If it's a big open area, it might be pretty difficult to do much about it. Especially if there are lots of people coming and going; who knows where the trigger could be coming from. And it will be difficult to make sure the air is ok.

If it's a smaller area, you might try the air filter, and being sure that dust (common allergen) is well removed. A microfiber cloth and HEPA vacuum can help with this.

Other things to try: any new plants nearby (inside or out)? Coworker who visits someone with a kitty and brings their kitty-laden coat in? New furniture? New carpet? Wait until winter, and see if it goes away? (That would tell you it's seasonal, at least). Raw honey (can't be heated) supposedly can help if it's a pollen allergy (get local honey, have small bits regularly, can desensitize). I haven't tried it myself but keep meaning to. Green tea is another possibility; I gather the effect isn't very strong, but it's noticeable enough that my allergist told me to stop drinking so much before I got the scratch tests done as it might muck with them.

If your issue is dust related and there's any location in the office with hard flooring that you could be placed in, it might help. Much easier to keep truly clean.
posted by nat at 12:20 AM on September 25, 2013

Am going through the whole allergy testing thing right now. Primary Care Dr. started with 2 blood tests, one for airborne allergies, the other for food. This will tell you if you can treat yourself with OTC's, Rx, or if you should see an allergist for skin testing. Good Luck with it.
posted by misspat at 7:17 AM on September 25, 2013

Response by poster: I spoke with the super today and he's going to find out if there's been a change in the stuff they use to clean the office. I'm also going to start disinfecting my phone and keyboard as suggested above and eating honey and drinking more green tea, and I will consider an air filter and a visit to an allergist. Thanks everyone for your input!
posted by Everythingsalrighteverythingsfine at 3:58 PM on September 25, 2013

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