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The biggest hay fever triggers in the workplace to be wary of

The biggest hay fever triggers in the workplace to be wary of

As spring arrives with it comes a shift in the potential health and safety issues that may be seen in the workplace. Allergies can be expected to rise from March onwards, as ‘hay fever season’ sets in until late summer. Both employers and employees should educate themselves on the risks of allergens at work to protect theirs and their colleagues' health.

Symptoms of hay fever

Common symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Runny nose and nasal stuffiness 
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes 
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Mucus that runs down the back of your throat 
  • Swollen, bruised-appearing skin under the eyes 
  • Extreme tiredness, often due to poor sleep

Common workplace allergies

This spring there are many triggers for allergies, as hay fever cases rise. The most common allergens are dust mites, pollen and mould, making it important for employers to mitigate these risks for workers. Closing windows can reduce humidity if you have a well maintained air conditioner that can keep rooms cool. Elevated indoor humidity in damp buildings can lead to an increased population of house dust mites indoors. These mites serve as significant contributors to indoor allergens. Employers should also ensure that offices and warehouses are properly cleaned and vacuumed so dust can’t build up and become a cause of allergies being triggered. It is also important to know the different seasons for pollen triggers:

Tree Pollen Season: Tree pollen typically occurs from late March to mid-May. Approximately 25% of people experience allergies due to tree pollen. Common trees like alder, birch, hazel, and horse chestnut release pollen during this season. In mild weather, trees may start releasing pollen as early as January. To reduce exposure, monitor daily pollen forecasts, stay indoors on high pollen days, and take regular allergy treatments if you have hay fever and asthma.

Grass Pollen Season: Grass pollen has two peaks and lasts from mid-May until July. Most people are allergic to grass pollen. Protective measures include wearing gear outdoors, showering after exposure, avoiding lawn-related activities, and keeping windows closed during peak pollen times.

Weed Pollen Season: Weed pollen can be released at any time but typically covers the period from the end of June to September. Awareness and precautions during this season are essential for managing hay fever symptoms.

The problem of hay fever allergy triggers should not be minimised as this affects a significant proportion of the UK and can cause workplace sickness if not managed. A study by Citron Hygiene found 93% of hay fever sufferers said it had affected them in the workplace, with 20% having to take time off due to their symptoms. Data from Allergy Clinic London found that 1 in 4 Brits suffers from hay fever, around 16 million people. The same data states that allergies cost the NHS around £900 million each year, mostly through prescriptions. This makes up 10% of GP’s prescription budget.

One other measure employers can take include purchasing a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) purifier for workplaces, these types of filters can remove up to 99.97% or more of airborne particles with a size of . 3 microns, including dust, pollen, mould and bacteria. Under regulation 6 of the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations, employers must ‘ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air’. For employees, speak to your doctor and ensure you have the right prescriptions and recommendations to plan how to manage your pollen allergies in advance.

The biggest hay fever triggers:

Increased stress levels

According to Harvard Health, stress can significantly impact your hay fever allergies this spring. You may have worse allergy symptoms due to the impact stress has on our immune system, impacting your body’s ability to fight things off. Stress can amplify the symptoms you experience. You should listen to your body and try to be aware of any stress in your life which could be impacting your wellbeing. Speak to your employer if you have outside of work stress that could be affecting your work and ask for reasonable adjustments where necessary.

Perfume and candles

Breathing in candles or perfumed scents can in fact trigger an allergic response. A study noted that one in five people reported having a stuffy nose or allergy-symptoms in response to certain candles, making this a risk to your colleagues at work. Synthetically made scents can be made up of many different ingredients and chemicals which may not agree with all of us. Paraffin wax is what most common candles are made up of, so try switching to beeswax or non-scented candles for more natural alternatives which won’t affect your colleagues.

Wool clothing

Wool is a common cause of allergic reaction, due to the lanolin - the grease or oil featured in its composition for clothing. Wool is also a common harbourer of dust mites and pollen, both of which are triggers for hay fever response. Look for hypoallergenic fabrics for clothing, such as cotton, to protect yourself from worsening your allergies in hay fever season.

Office dogs

As lovable as they are, office dogs are not always suited for everybody. Pet dander and saliva are common things that can cause allergies to be triggered, making your pet a risk to your allergic workmate. Under the 2010 Equalities Act, employees with allergies linked to chronic conditions such as asthma can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made against office dogs being in the workplace. Adjustments could include dogs being given a separate space to stay, work from home days for those affected by dogs when the dogs are in or air filtration systems to be placed in the office.

Not showering before work

If you wake up and go to work unshowered you are leaving all the pollen which has accumulated on your body overnight to build up, even worse is going home and getting into bed unshowered as the pollen then stays in bed with you. The pollen not only triggers allergies but causes lack of sleep and impacts your ability to work as your allergies worsen.

Nice weather 

You may find yourself actually wishing for rain this summer if you are a hay fever sufferer as it can wash away pollen on the ground and surfaces. On cooler-weather days less pollen is also released into the air, reducing your hay fever trigger risk. All-day rain is best, according to Met Office weather advice - although it might not be what you want for your summer in the UK. When working outdoors the weather is all the more important. Make use of allergy tablets and reduce your risk if you have to work outside with hay fever.

Cigarette smoke

We know cigarettes are not good for our health, but did you know they can impact hay fever reactions? Research has suggested smoking can worsen hay fever allergic reactions, as the harsh chemicals found in cigarettes are an irritant when you are already suffering. In 2007 laws were passed to prevent smoking indoors, including in workplaces. This legislation stated that workplaces should be smoke-free and if they do have smoking shelters these need to be well-ventilated. Guidance also recommends smoking shelters be placed 2 metres from other buildings, including doorways and windows to reduce any harmful smoke getting to other employees.

For more health and safety advice from our experts, take a look at our blogs.

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