Allergies on the Job: 7 Workplace Irritants

He learned that the restaurateur had been having hives and trouble breathing, and was feeling faint when she was at the restaurant, where she often had to sample food made by employees wearing latex gloves.

She was coming in contact with latex all the time at the restaurant," said Bassett.

Besides people in the food service industry, others who regularly wear gloves on the job include beauticians and health care workers, whether in a dental office or operating room.

In fact, research suggests that 5 to 15 percent of health care workers have a latex allergy, while only 1 percent of the general population does.

"Your risk goes up if you're regularly exposed to latex products," Bassett said.

People get exposed to a protein in this rubber material by having direct contact with it (blowing a balloon or wearing a condom), inhaling airborne particles from it (putting on or taking off gloves often releases latex-laden, powdery particles), or ingesting it (eating a sandwich made by someone wearing a latex glove).

Testing identified that the woman was indeed allergic to latex. She then worked with her kitchen staff to get rid of latex gloves and use alternatives instead.

Interestingly, some people with latex allergies have cross reactions when they eat certain foods such as kiwi, avocado, banana and chestnut.

Pet Allergies

Ten to 15 percent of all people with allergies have an allergy to pets, said Bassett.

You might think that veterinarians as well as dog walkers, trainers or animal groomers might shy away from working with pets on a daily basis if they had this sensitivity, but that's not always the case.

Bassett recalled a case involving a female veterinarian who had bad allergies to dogs and cats.

"Imagine the irony of being allergic to your clients," he exclaimed.

Throughout her veterinary training, the vet knew she had mild allergies to her patients. But with more exposure to the animals, the allergies grew worse.

She was sneezing, had nasal congestion and itchy eyes with every visit from Fido or Fluffy. In the morning, she woke up with a dry throat and "allergic shiners" or dark circles under her eyes.

Caring for dogs and cats was her livelihood, so avoiding exposure to her allergens would mean changing careers.

For her, pet dander was the trigger. But for some people with cat allergies, the feline's saliva is the main irritant.

Pet dander in a vet's office can be everywhere. It collects on the pet's fur, and once airborne it may settle on clothes, walls and other surfaces. So, to feel better, she had to clean these areas more scrupulously.

According to Bassett, the vet decided to undergo immunotherapy. While she was getting the allergy shots over a three- to four-month period, she also took a daily antihistamine before work. And she did daily nasal rinsing with salt water every evening to wash away the irritants.

The treatment provided the long-term relief she needed to continue to stay in the profession. These days, both the vet and her furry four-legged friends are happy once again.

Beauty Products

Hair stylists, nail salon workers and make-up artists sometimes find that the beauty products they frequently use on their clients makes them feel pretty lousy.

Bassett had a patient who owned a hair salon. For many years, this gentleman had skin and respiratory complaints after being exposed to various products at his salon.

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