Everyone is looking forward to fun, outdoor activities when spring arrives. But for more than 50 million Americans who are affected by seasonal allergies – many of them construction workers – spring brings runny and congested noses, inflamed sinuses, relentless sneezing, and other symptoms that compound with the traditional health and safety hazards that go along with construction work.
The biggest cause of spring allergies is pollen and construction workers have an increased exposure to pollen due to direct contact from working outside. Pollen is most prevalent in spring when plants are in bloom and with so many varieties of foliage releasing their pollen into the air, it’s the perfect environment for allergy overload.
Pollen bothers most of us because our body’s immune system overreacts to what is basically a harmless substance. Symptoms are usually fairly mild though, affecting our sinuses, and upper respiratory tract. For most workers, these symptoms aren’t a huge factor in productivity. However, for those who suffer from severe allergies, they might have to take sick days off work or worse, suffer from “presenteeism.” In other words, they are so affected by either their allergy symptoms or the symptoms from allergy medication, that they are sluggish and distracted, which is an added hazard on a construction site.
When your body reacts to pollen, it produces chemicals called histamines. Histamines are what causes the tissue in your nose to swell, your eyes to itch or water, and your nose to run. We respond by taking an antihistamine medication to counteract this. Antihistamines can affect your ability to focus by making you feel drowsy. While an over-the-counter antihistamine seems like a quick response to seasonal allergies, doctors can recommend medications that are non-drowsy and don’t create added safety risks in the workplace.
There are some things you can personally do to reduce your exposure to allergies and alleviate symptoms:
- Take a shower when you get home to remove pollen from your hair and skin and wash your clothes in hot water.
- Close windows to prevent pollen and mold spores from coming indoors. It may seem like the best time to open the windows for some fresh air, but you’re also allowing particles to enter. Use an air conditioner to cool and clean the air. You can go a step further and use HEPA filters, which are approved for removing smaller allergens from the air.
- Enjoy outdoor activities after a rainy day. Rain washes the pollen from the air and the moisture in the air after a rain shower temporarily lessens the spread of pollen, allowing you an opportunity to better enjoy being outdoors.
- Spend as little time outside in the early morning hours as possible. The pollen count is highest in the morning due to the evaporation of moisture as outdoor temps increase. The dew on the ground that traps the pollen begins to evaporate and begins to release it. This means if you enjoy a morning run or walk, consider switching to after work hours or the evening when pollen counts are lower.
In construction, working in a hazardous industry is dangerous enough in itself. You must be alert at all times, be able to react to production issues, recognize safety issues, and be an asset to the crew. Spring allergies can be very uncomfortable, but an accident or injury could bring an even greater problem into your life.