Your throat is scratchy, your eyes are watery, and you’re staring at the towering pile of tissues you’ve managed to collect in the waste basket next to your desk. One more sneeze, and you’re convinced your brain will pop out of your ears.
Oh, the joys of allergy season. Pretty miserable, right? And, as it turns out, that constant sniffling, sneezing, and scratching isn’t just undeniably annoying—it can also cause a major negative impact on your workweek.
What exactly is “allergy season”?
You’ll hear the phrase “allergy season” tossed around a lot. And, for most of us, that equates to the spring when the beautiful blossoming flowers and budding trees seem to brutally attack our nasal passages.
But, here’s a rude awakening for you: There really isn’t just one tried and true “allergy season.”
“Each year, in those areas of the US where three or four seasons take place, spring allergy season kicks into high gear during those months of late March, April, and May,” explains Clifford W. Bassett, MD, Medical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, author of The New Allergy Solution, and faculty and NYU School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College.
While that time of year tends to be the most problematic for people who struggle with allergies (which is an estimated 50 million people in the United States), that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you need to worry about those pesky reactions.
“It depends on what you are allergic to,” explains Dr. Steven Cole, DO Allergist/Immunologist at Park Lane Allergy & Asthma Center in Dallas.
For those who are allergic to pets, dust mites, or mold, symptoms can be year-round. But, those who have stronger allergic reactions to pollens experience the worst symptoms in the spring or fall—depending on what types of pollens they’re allergic to.
How allergies are hindering your productivity
Allergies are annoying—there’s no denying that. But, despite your efforts to struggle through and pump nasal sprays at your desk, allergies can also significantly decrease your productivity and focus at work.
“Nasal congestion leads to poor sleep quality culminating in a cognitive impairment the following day,” explains Dr. Bassett.
The consequences of allergies can stop even the most efficient people from getting a good workday in. The consequences include feelings of fatigue and drowsiness, reduced concentration and alertness, as well as a decline in learning and productivity.
In fact, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates that allergies cost US companies $250 million per year due to this nosedive in employee productivity.
And, while the disrupted sleep that your nasal congestion and drainage causes is pain enough, the medications you take to mitigate your allergy symptoms could actually be working against your productivity as well.
Another issue: oral antihistamines can make people drowsy and less alert — an effect called “decreased mentation,” says Dr. Cole.
Believe it or not, one study projected that the use of sedating antihistamines by affected workers could result in a 25% reduction in productivity for two weeks per year.
Dealing with your allergies
So, what can you do—besides complain?
It all starts with knowing what exactly you’re allergic to. “Get an in-office allergist-directed test to pinpoint your individual triggers,” advises Dr. Bassett. “The best offense is a robust defense.”
Once you know what inspires your misery, you can take steps to better stave off some of those dreaded effects.
“People with pollen allergy can take a shower or change clothes after they have been outdoors on days of high pollen counts,” shares Dr. Cole, “Keep the windows closed at home and in the car.”
Or, those with dust mite allergies can get covers to go over their pillows, mattress, and box spring. There are plenty of preventative actions out there—they all just depend on your specific allergy.
Over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays can also be helpful— as long as you’re prepared for any side effects, like drowsiness.
But, while you’re likely used to taking these treatments once your nose is already actively running, it’s smarter to begin taking allergy medications 10 to 14 days before the start of your allergy season. This can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
If you’re looking for a more permanent fix, both doctors mention immunotherapy as an option.
“Immunotherapy decreases allergy reactivity, making people less allergic than before,” explains Dr. Cole. This sort of treatment can include injections or allergy tabs or drops placed under the tongue to provide more long-term relief.
When to stay home with an allergy
Finally, here’s the big question: Since allergies aren’t contagious, are you justified in staying home to wallow in your own self pity, rather than showing up to the office in your sniffling state?
Plenty of people do take a sick day. In fact, one study estimates that allergies account for approximately 3.5 million lost workdays annually.
But, whether or not you want to call in is really up to your own discretion.
“If the allergies are affecting their ability to drive or operate heavy machinery, they should stay home,” explains Dr. Cole.
If not? Make sure you have a big box of tissues within arm’s reach on your desk and a supply of allergy medication.
We can all agree—allergies blow (pun very much intended). As if the groan-worthy symptoms didn’t inspire enough misery, they can also slow you down in the office. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be able to prevent your allergies entirely, this advice should help you reduce the severity of your symptoms and carry on as best as you can.