For Patty Mulcahy, it began with itchy eyes. They started to water two years ago when renovation began on the Midtown office building where she was working. By the fifth day, redness and swelling became unbearable. She ended up in the emergency room. Over the next three months, she developed a bad cough. Doctors at first suspected pneumonia, but it worsened in spite of antibiotics. When she collapsed at her desk in October 2006, barely able to breathe, she learned she had what doctors call occupational asthma. In other words, she was allergic to work.
While it sounds like a punch line, or a handy excuse for avoiding the office, workplace allergy, specifically occupational asthma, accounts for about 10% of asthma cases in the
Work-induced allergy is fairly simple to diagnose: the symptoms worsen as the workday progresses, and lessen after you leave. And you feel fine on weekends and vacations. Much more complicated is what to do about it. The only cure is to avoid the allergy trigger. That may be possible when your trigger is peanuts, but how do you earn a living when your trigger is the place you work? Nearly every workplace has potential triggers. The Mayo Clinic website lists 16 professions at risk for occupational asthma, including veterinarian, cabinetmaker, cleaning staff, baker and hairdresser.