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New Job, New Allergies: Common Workplace Allergens

In a recent blog, we dove into adult onset allergies and discovered that there is no proven reason (yet!) as to why allergies suddenly appear in adulthood. Dr. Mary Morris, Allergychoices Medical Advisor, partner at Allergy Associates of La Crosse and a lead author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol, had a few ideas as to why this may be happening, one being new exposures.

When people think of new exposure, they usually think of moving to a new part of the country or world and experiencing new foods or outdoor allergens – and then discovering an allergy. But what about starting a new job and the exposures that could cause reactions?

Veterinarians, vet techs, ranchers and researchers

It’s no surprise that animals can cause allergy issues. Dr. Morris says, “A person may have had exposure to pets as a child and never had a problem, and then get an animal as an adult in an enclosed space, with increased exposure, and develop an allergy.”

The amount of dander and saliva is different from animal to animal, and the frequency of exposure is drastically increased when working with pets or livestock, or researching them in a lab setting, is your job. The exposure to the allergen is at an all-time high, especially if animals exist in the home, too. Because of the increased contact, symptoms often arise.

Hair dressers and factory workers

Contact allergy is another common allergy developed in work environments. It’s itchy or inflamed skin that appears after coming in contact with an allergenic substance, like nickel, latex, chemicals, or cleaning products.

Contact allergy commonly develops in adults, and Dr. Morris believes that it may be partially due to new exposures in the workplace. “Actually, 42% of patients who have contact dermatitis develop it as an adult. Part of that might be due to our work exposures,” Dr. Morris explains. “If you work in a factory or as a hair dresser, certainly more chemicals are coming in contact with our hands. So that may be true.”

Oftentimes, the allergy doesn’t appear after first exposure. A person may be in contact with the material for years and experience no symptoms, only to go on and develop symptoms later in life.

Landscapers, construction workers and farmers

For employees that work primarily outside, they may start to notice the sting of environmental allergies. Think about landscapers, construction workers, and farmers who are working hands-on with different environmental allergens. Exposure is increased due to the direct contact, and the pollen sticks to clothes and hair, bringing the symptom-makers into your home.

As pollen seasons become longer and more severe every year, even adults who haven’t had symptoms in the past are starting to feel the burn of seasonal allergies.

Chefs and servers

Working in the food industry is a great way to try new foods and experience cuisine from around the world. Whether you’re a chef, server, or food blogger, experimenting with new foods is a fun and central aspect of the job.

Trying a new food and having a reaction is possible, similarly to having a food for the first time as a child. Food allergies can also develop in adulthood. Shellfish may not have caused issues in childhood, but causes upset stomach and hives in adulthood. Though research hasn’t shown why this happens yet, Dr. Morris says, “I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s something that can develop at any time.”

Food allergy shouldn’t be confused with Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). For some with seasonal allergies, fresh fruit and vegetables may cause itchy mouth or throat, GI issues and congestion; they contain some of the same proteins found in pollen. This is OAS. With more people experiencing seasonal allergies every year, some individuals may be just starting to feel the effects of OAS.

Do I have to quit my job?

Feeling miserable at your workplace isn’t only uncomfortable for you, but can cause decreased productivity by missing work or not being at your best while at work. For some, it may have meant changing career paths – but there are other options. While antihistamines or topical creams can relieve your symptoms, they don’t get to the cause of the problem. Sublingual immunotherapy, or allergy drops, treats the cause of allergy by slowly introducing your body to the substances that make you miserable and gradually train your body to tolerate them, enabling you to do the things or work you enjoy without symptoms.

If you’re an employer wondering how you can boost productivity by offering an allergy treatment that gets to the cause of allergy, check out our Allergy Control Program.

By Taylor Pasell, Allergychoices