After discovering yesterday that four in ten Brits struggle to do their job when suffering from hay fever, Dr Daniel Fenton, medical director of London Doctors Clinic, shares his tips employers can make to help allergy sufferers at work
While we all long for those beautiful long summer days and the smell of freshly cut grass; hay fever sufferers dread the high pollen counts, and the itchy, sneezy, wheezy symptoms that are associated with it
A 2013 study showed that anywhere between ten to 30 per cent of adults suffer with hay fever. The Met Office discovered that hay fever costs UK employers 29 million days’ worth of lost work per year, with employees who suffer from severe hay fever needing an average of 8.4 days away from their desk. So, hay fever should not be ignored by employers.
Many people believe that hay fever simply manifests as itchy eyes and sneezing that can be managed with a cocktail of antihistamines, eye drops and nasal sprays. Whilst this may be true in some cases, we know that as many as 57 per cent of adults will have sleep disturbance as a result of their hay fever. Poor sleep results in daytime fatigue and problems with alertness and concentration. Many hay fever sufferers describe this as ‘brain fog’. There is therefore no surprise that productivity is significantly reduced in perennial hay fever sufferers.
Remember that pollen has three waves:
This means staff can be affected by hay fever from January, right through to the end of summer.
So, these are my top tips for creating a pollen free work environment throughout hay fever season:
1. Keep the windows closed
Good quality air condition is much better than having the windows open during the summer period. Open windows allow the minuscule pollen particles to find their way in and settle around the office.
2. Good flooring
While plush carpets may look fantastic in certain areas, they harbour both dust and pollen, which create a nightmare environment for hay fever and dust allergy sufferers alike. Sweepable and moppable floors are much better for pollen free working conditions.
If there are carpets, ensuring they are thoroughly vacuumed on a daily basis by the cleaning staff is essential.
3. Removal of plants and flowers
While they can make an office look nicer, these should be removed from working areas, as people seemingly forget that flowers create pollen.
4. Soft furnishings
In the modern ages of the trendy office, cushions and beanbags have become common practice. It may be beneficial to remove these during the hay fever months, or to at least ensure they are also vacuumed on a daily basis.
5. Coats and jacket storage
It would be great to have a separate cloakroom for coats and jackets. Clothes pick up small pieces of pollen each time you go outside, these small particles are then deposited into the working space, especially if your staff are in the habit of hanging theirs coat on the back of their chair.
6. Flexible working
If the simple measures have not helped, it would be sensible to consider offering flexible working on high pollen days. This may mean allowing staff to work from home or starting/finishing early. Pollen counts are different throughout the day. If the 9am pollen is high, an 8am or 10am start may be preferable when levels are lower. The Met Office website is an excellent source of information, and offer a pollen count map to help you to plan.
7. Help your staff see a doctor
Allow your staff to see their doctor to discuss hay fever treatments. If the standard over the counter medications have not been helping, there are a range of medications that can be offered, including tablets, nasal sprays, and even a hay fever injection, which is used to help the most severe sufferers.