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Office allergens: how dangerous the workplace can be


Allergies are more than just sneezing and itchy eyes. It can be characterized by a fairly wide range of unpleasant symptoms from both the respiratory system and the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs and systems. Moreover, it can occur anywhere: at home, in nature or at work. And it is workplace allergens that can reduce the productivity of many people and seriously harm their health.

There is evidence that it is the professional environment that is the cause of a quarter of cases of asthma and about 20% of skin disorders in adults.

For example, approximately 11 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to agents that can cause occupational asthma and allergic contact dermatitis.

According to the results of British studies, 96% of adults in the UK with allergies felt their symptoms in the workplace.


The most common symptoms of allergies in the workplace are:

  • rhinitis;
  • contact dermatitis;
  • breathing problems, particularly asthma.

In rare cases, an allergic reaction is so severe that a person may develop anaphylactic shock – a systemic reaction from various organs that is life-threatening.


In fact, allergies can develop in workers in any field. But there are industries where workers are most at risk of contracting the disease.

For example, areas of activity with an increased risk of developing occupational asthma and allergic contact dermatitis include the following:

  • beauty industry (hairdressing and beauty salons);
  • healthcare;
  • manufacturing, in particular the automotive industry;
  • cleaning;
  • food processing and packaging;
  • care and other work with animals;
  • work with metals;

Skin sensitization and consequent allergic contact dermatitis can be caused by thousands of chemicals. Up to a hundred substances can trigger the development of asthma.


Here are some common allergens that workers in various industries encounter in their workplaces:

  • flour dust and other plant products (food industry, bakers, loaders);
  • enzymes (biochemical industry);
  • detergents (cleaning, medicine and other professions where cleanliness is a condition);
  • wood dust (furniture manufacturing, sawmill);
  • animal products and animal dander (farmers, workers in the food industry, veterinary clinics, etc.);
  • isocyanates (production of spray paints, plastics, polyurethane, etc.);
  • anhydrides (chemical industry);
  • amines (chemical production, paint spraying, welding, metalworking);
  • metals (painting, metalworking, welding);
  • dyes (hairdressers, cooks, textile industry);
  • antimicrobials, latex and biocides (health care, cleaning, food, disinfectants).

But even office work can also be associated with the risk of developing or exacerbating allergies.

Food, chemicals, latex, fragrances, pollen, dust, fungus, wood, animal dander and resins… all can cause allergic reactions in sensitized people.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these factors.


Warm and damp rooms are ideal for mold growth. If nothing is done with it, then the fungus will become so much that, in the end, the immune system will also begin to react to it. Especially if you already have sensitivity to this allergen.

Most of the allergens present in mushrooms, particularly the spores they release into the air, cause symptoms such as a runny nose and conjunctivitis, but breathing problems can also occur.

Allergies to certain types of fungal spores, according to various sources, have from 5 to 10% of the population.

dust mites

By law, air conditioning systems should be thoroughly cleaned every 3-5 years. If this is not done, they can become a great breeding ground for dust mites. In addition, these tiny creatures, which are difficult to see with the naked eye, can also live on the floor, on walls, and even in the air. That’s why it’s so important to do wet cleaning. An allergy to dust mites can trigger an asthma attack.

Animal dandruff

It is not necessary that a cat live in the office. The dandruff of this animal, which its owner brings with him on clothes, may also be quite enough for sensitive people to develop a reaction to this irritant. That’s why it’s important that outerwear stays away from the work area.

Although cat and cat allergens are a common cause of animal reactions, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, parrots, as well as horses and cows can also cause negative symptoms.


Perfumes, gels, aftershave products are not so bad. Along with them, there are various aerosol air fresheners, deodorants, detergents, and so on. All of them can cause allergic reactions. Therefore, some countries, such as Canada, have started “no odor” policies in the workplace.


Open windows or an imperfect ventilation system without the use of special filters can allow allergenic pollen to enter your workplace. It can settle on furniture and clothes and provoke the appearance of allergy symptoms. Moreover, up to the 5-6th floor, the amount of pollen in the working room can only grow. This is the case when the building in which you work is across the air currents that form in the city.


Alkaline cleaners for toilets and drains, degreasers and other stain removers, solvents such as acetone, alcohols, disinfectant solutions… They all contain many chemical compounds, contact with which can lead to the development of allergies. In the end, due to the dominance of household chemicals around, some people may even react to the smell of lemon or citric acid.


Formaldehyde or other aldehydes are common constituents of adhesives for furniture wood or molded resin elements, insulation elements and sealants . They are also a component of some medical products.

For example, as shown by the results of one of the studies, which was conducted in the province of Alberta (USA), 46% of pathologists have problems with formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde can cause various respiratory and skin reactions (in particular, rashes and redness). Moreover, as it is assumed, it can lead to the development of cancer.


There are three types of colors:

  • solvent based paints. They are also called oil-based paints. Almost all of them have strong odors that can irritate the nose, eyes, skin, and lungs.
  • Water-based paints – acrylic and latex. The latter, for the most part, are made from oil, and not from rubber latex. They may also contain a small amount of a solvent such as alcohol and/or an anti-mould biocide . Although such paints were created with the aim of reducing the use of solvents that negatively affect the ozone layer, the same biocides can cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Resin based paints. They may contain isocyanates , which are quite powerful allergens.


Latex is everywhere now. In latex gloves, plastic bottles, medical supplies , rubber bands, balloons and office decor. All of these items can be made from the sap of the rubber tree, which is much more likely to cause allergic reactions than products based on refined oil.

In addition, often people who are allergic to latex may also react to certain vegetables and fruits. This reaction is called latex-fruit cross syndrome. It is due to the similarity of allergenic proteins in different products. Fruits that cross-react with latex include bananas, avocados, kiwis, tomatoes, and chestnuts, among others.


And finally, if you are sensitive to any of the above, remember that the onset of symptoms can also be accelerated by excessive psychological stress. However, sometimes stress can act as a completely independent factor, which in itself can cause a rash, breathing problems, or general malaise.


One of the best ways to avoid unwanted symptoms is to prevent them from occurring. Unfortunately, for some professions, this is almost impossible. We are talking about work associated with constant contact with certain chemical, physical or biological substances – paints, latex or dust. Then doctors, as a rule, recommend thinking about changing jobs.

But there are also cases when changing the environment in the workplace helps to improve the situation. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Turn on the air conditioner during peak allergen season.
  • Provide adequate room ventilation.
  • Use HEPA filters and replace them regularly.
  • Keep the facility clean and encourage workers to clean their work areas regularly to reduce dust and mold levels.
  • Eliminate excess moisture to prevent fungus growth.
  • Keep outerwear away from the main work area, as coats and jackets often contain pet hair and other allergens.
  • Carpets and upholstery should be cleaned regularly.
  • Workers exposed to potential allergens should wear protective equipment.

Allergies are quite difficult to treat. In most cases, the fight against its manifestations is reduced to avoiding exposure to allergens or to symptomatic therapy with antihistamines. In cases of sensitivity to inhaled allergens (pollen, fungus, animal dander), especially in severe cases, allergen-specific immunotherapy can help alleviate allergy symptoms.

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