Spring has well and truly sprung! For some, milder weather, seeing daffodils in bloom and blossom on the trees fill them with excitement. For hay fever sufferers, it can signal the start of an uncomfortable few months ahead.
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds occurring during the spring and summer months.
It’s estimated that up to 1 in 5 adults in the UK can be affected, with symptoms varying from mild to severe, including itchy eyes/throat, sneezing, coughing, headaches and tiredness. Whilst hay fever is not deemed dangerous, sufferers can find themselves quite debilitated or it can exacerbate other conditions such as asthma. When symptoms interfere with daily life or impact quality of sleep, this can also have a negative effect on mood and concentration.
According to a 2018 report by Well Pharmacy, nearly a fifth of those who suffer have required time off work as a result, with a third of those feeling it necessary to hide the truth behind their absence from their employer, fearing that it doesn’t sound like a serious enough reason to call in sick.
With up to 20% of your workforce potentially experiencing these symptoms, what can employers be doing?
Just because it’s a commonly talked about and well-known condition doesn’t mean it should be underestimated. It’s important for employers to be aware that people can be affected very differently and should be handled on a case by case basis. The severity of symptoms can also vary year to year depending on climate factors.
The Allergy UK website is a good resource to understand the condition further should you have an employee who is affected.
Fortunately, the UK has a variety of treatments for hay fever symptoms available over the counter which are effective in many cases. People with mild symptoms can obtain quick advice from their local pharmacy.
Employers may also find it helpful to circulate some tips for reducing symptoms, such as these from the NHS website -
Put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen
Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen from getting into your eyes
Shower and change clothes after being outside
Employers should always take care to only circulate information, particularly relating to health, from reputable and trustworthy sources. Those organisations with private healthcare insurance may be able to utilise their provider as a resource.
Clean air is key to reducing symptoms. The best approach is to keep windows closed for the first part of the morning and late afternoon when the pollen levels are highest. Air conditioning units should be regularly serviced to ensure optimum air quality.
Certain types of fresh flowers and plants can also aggravate symptoms so it may be useful to check anything like this you bring into a workspace, along with putting in measures to ensure that work surfaces and equipment are wiped regularly.
Whilst hay fever has not been deemed a disability under the Equality Act, employers may want to consider if they could make reasonable adjustments on a case by case basis.
Employers should recognise when a member of staff may need further signposting. If symptoms worsen and start to negatively impact someone on a day to day basis, including their mental health, it is likely time to ensure they are receiving the advice and support they need.