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Ahh-Choo! Finding Workplace Respect For Spring Allergies

Springtime is here, which means your allergy-prone co-worker is going to be sniffling, sneezing and wheezing all the way to quitting time. Oh, sniff, sniff.

Yes, allergy season is upon us, and it has real-world impacts on the workplace. One study estimated that nearly 7 million U.S. workdays are lost each year to hay fever allergies, because employees are either absent or present but less productive. Let's refer to the latter as "pollen-induced presenteeism."

The mind-blowing price tag amid all this springtime nose blowing? Employers can lose more than $600 million in annual productivity to seasonal allergies. That's nothing to sneeze at, is it?

Maybe you're lucky never to have folded like a deck chair in the face of pollen season. Sure, your nose is a little bit runny and your eyes were vaguely itchy the other day, but you're not sure if allergies were to blame. Maybe you simply had a stray eyelash in your eye, or a piece of dust? Whatever it is, Zyrtec is for other people.

Namely, it's for the co-worker sitting across from you today with watering eyes, a rough, red nose, a bonus-sized box of tissues, a raging sleep deficit, and a supply of 12-hour generic, over-the-counter allergy medication front and center on his desk.

You try to feel sympathetic as this co-worker updates you on the pollen count and says he slept a total of three hours last night because he couldn't stop sneezing. You try to be forgiving that he can't seem to sit through a status update meeting without wheezing. You hold down the fort while he empties his trash can full of used Kleenex. Again.

A few weeks into your co-worker's pollen party, however, you might feel like your patience is running a little bit thin. You can't quite understand how pollen could still be impacting your co-worker to this extent.

Now please stop for just a second to imagine how your sneezing, wheezing co-worker feels.

He feels like warmed-over dog poop all day long with a headache, muscle aches, dizziness, a stuffy nose, plugged ears and a non-contagious sore throat, in addition to feeling somewhat sedated due to allergy medication. Then he goes home and feels the same way all night long. For weeks on end. Perhaps even for months on end.

Along the way, he might even wonder quietly if a few of his pollen-proof co-workers think he's exaggerating his symptoms for dramatic effect.

No really, guys, I'm not kidding! I do feel this terrible all the time right now. It's worse than a bad cold, because at least when you have a bad cold everyone understands. My ears are totally plugged at work because all the sunflowers and chamomile plants you guys planted in the company organic working garden are blooming at once, and somebody keeps propping open the back door with a box fan to let in the fresh air, which means pollen comes floating right to my desk! Help me!!!

In all seriousness, poo-pooing a co-worker's springtime allergy symptoms is a workplace angle that we never talk about, which is exactly why I'm bringing it up. Springtime pollen allergies deserve more workplace respect as a real big drag, in more ways than one.

I've known a few people who get ahead of their work in the late winter, knowing full well that they will feel crummy as soon as the first daffodil blooms. Oh, but it's so pretty, isn't it? Let's all say it together: Spriiiiing!

Nearly three-fourths of asthma sufferers will have spring allergies. The pollen can trigger an allergic response. So if your co-worker has asthma, chances are good he or she will have pollen-related spring allergies, too.

In sum, the co-worker sitting across from you breathing through his mouth doesn't want your pollen-related pity, but he (or she) would love a daily half-dose of prescription-strength understanding in the short term. Pollen allergies are real, they impact some of us a lot more than others, and those who are laid low by them are going to feel absolutely ghastly for the next month or so. Luckily, it doesn't last forever for most of us. Cough.

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