Is Work Making You Sick? Part 4

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Is Your Allergy Work-Related?
Identifying occupational allergies and asthma can be a challenge, said Charous. “Sometimes it’s hard to diagnose,” he said. For starters, Charous said, you need to get a history of the complaint and ask questions such as, “Do you suffer the allergy year-round?” “Is it worse at work?”

To diagnose your allergies or asthma as being caused by a substance in the workplace, you may undergo medical examinations and testing at and away from work. Charous added that you may need to undergo other specific tests, such as challenge tests, which observe your body’s reaction when exposed to potentially problematic substances. Any evaluation will also consider nonoccupational causes as well.

If you uncover the substance causing your allergy or asthma, you can take steps to avoid contact with it. This may mean moving to another part of the building or to a new office. Charous says in some cases an employee may have to be reassigned or given new duties.

Howland agreed. “You can take medications, take allergy shots, use environmental control measures, but you may end up having to find a new workplace,” he said.

Charous said that many times people do not think about the possibility of something at work being the cause of their symptoms. “There’s a certain prevalence of workplace allergies out there,” he says. “But, in a number of cases, unless there’s an index of suspicion, you’ll miss it.”

According to Howland, “In many cases, there’s no way for a person to know what’s causing their allergy. They just know that they don’t feel good.”

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