Occupational Allergies

The Allergy Kit

About Occupational Allergies


Occupational allergies are those allergies that are caused by the work environment. Allergic reactions to substances found in the work environment are not always serious but can frequently indicate a potential health problem that is developing in the workplace, and if the offending substances are not quickly identified and dealt with, it can become a situation where the employer is exposed to considerable liability in addition to ailing employees.

Occupational allergies (workplace allergies) are caused by a variety of substances that people are exposed to in the workplace. It can be caused by the re-circulated air in a building or the material an individual handles, such as latex gloves. Interaction with these substances is usually out of a person’s control which makes it very difficult for the individual to manage. It is not as easy as just avoiding the substance that is causing the allergic reaction because one may need the offending item to do his or her job. Or, if the problem is in the air, how does one avoid breathing?


Symptoms of occupational allergies are not much different from other allergies. An individual can suffer a minor reaction to an irritant or have a very severe response. Symptoms can range from sneezing, coughing, or rashes, or breathing issues may develop. For example, there may be complications involving asthma or ailments that lead to life threatening situations.

Common Related Diseases

Two of the most serious allergic or immunological diseases caused by substances in the workplace are occupational asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and there are individuals who are at a greater risk for contracting occupational asthma. For example, those employees who suffer from allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis are at a greater risk. Individuals who have allergic occupational asthma will experience coughing or wheezing at work, sneezing, stuffy nose, burning eyes. These symptoms will subside when they are not at work for a couple of days.

Most often, people who suffer from occupational asthma are reacting to animal dander, plant proteins, and mold. If an individual begins to have symptoms and they last for more than two weeks, a doctor should be visited to determine whether the symptoms are a result of allergies. If caught quickly, the symptoms may never progress to a point where asthma is developed and diagnosed.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an explosive reaction to inhaling some type of organic dust or vapour. It is a result of an intense sensitization that can take several months or years to develop. Once the sensitization occurs, any exposure to the irritant will result in a very rapid allergic reaction. The symptoms include cough, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, and aches. The symptoms could last for up to eighteen hours.

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Occupations with a Higher Risk Factor

Individuals who work with animals may experience sneezing, coughing, hives, and even develop asthma from being on the job. Individuals who work in salons, like estheticians and hairdressers, may develop rhinitis or asthma from working with human hair or dander. They may also have skin reactions to the substances used in client treatments such as bleach or hair and cosmetic products. Farmers, landscapers and other individuals that work outdoors can have a reaction to the bacteria in the hay, grain, or sod as well as to pollen and dust.

People who work in the food industry such as food processors or restaurant workers can react to several types of allergens including the vapors from certain foods. Some individuals with food allergies are so sensitive that simply being in the vicinity of the food or having physical contact with it will result in an allergic reaction. Others may react to the dust created from processing the food, which can be the case with coffee beans. Factory workers can react to the fumes of the machinery, the metals being processed, and the dust in the factories.

Individuals who work in hospitals, laboratories, or food preparation areas may develop sensitization to latex gloves. The latex occupational allergy may result in symptoms such as rashes, eczema or in severe cases, anaphylactic shock may be experienced. People in many other occupations may suffer occupational allergies. Anyone susceptible who works in a building can be at risk to develop allergic reactions to the re-circulated air, ventilation, or even building materials.

Occupational allergies can be caused by many different allergens and therefore the treatments can vary extensively. The most effective treatment would be avoiding the substance causing the allergic reaction but unfortunately, with occupational allergies, this is not always easy to do. For those suffering from the air in the workplace, installing higher quality air filters, and increasing the cleaning and vacuuming may minimize the number of pollutants. The type of cleaning products used in the workplace should also be reviewed to ensure the least potent product is used.

For individuals with rhinitis or asthma who are unable to avoid offending substances at work, they may be able to treat their symptoms with antihistamines, inhalers, or steroids. For severe reactions such as anaphylactic shock from latex exposure, seeking prompt physician treatment and epinephrine injections will be required.


Preventing occupational allergies is very difficult unless management is willing to make changes in the environment. This is not always economically feasible for employers to do, especially since an allergy may only affect a small number of employees. In cases such as this, the affected individual may need to change jobs in order to protect his or her health.

The Allergy Kit


Employees may suffer occupational allergies due to being in a particular work environment for excessive periods of time with no opportunity for fresh air or avoidance of a particular allergen. Unless management is willing and able to make changes to the environment, those employees can be left suffering from their allergies with their only recourse being a change in jobs or occupation, with a move to an environment that is free of the offending substances.

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