What should I do when I have an allergic reaction on my shift?

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Whether you have seasonal allergies or just get sensitive around certain irritants at work, having an allergic reaction during your shift can pose a number of etiquette problems. Most mild allergic reactions won’t significantly interfere with your ability to do your job. But allergy symptoms can sap your energy and make it tough to get through a long workday. Occasionally, they can make simple tasks much harder than they should be. For example, if you’re having bouts of uncontrollable sneezing, your patients may take one look at you with a needle in your hand and run the other way!

Don’t Appear Contagious
Hay fever and hives aren’t catching, but patients and coworkers may give you the stink eye if they see you sneezing, coughing or scratching. Everyone gets the creeps when it comes to germs in the hospital. A bright red rash can conjure images of all sorts of deadly tropical diseases in the minds of nearby hypochondriacs. Slap on the anti-itch cream and cover up with a loose, long-sleeve cotton shirt under your scrubs top or a lab coat over it to conceal an allergic skin rash. When you can’t stop sneezing, consider wearing a face mask to keep from spraying everyone around you.

Talk to Your Supervisor and Coworkers
Notify the charge nurse or other supervisor when you’re having a bad bout of seasonal allergies. She may want to be kept informed if you’re taking an antihistamine that could make you drowsy or error-prone.

If you break out in hives, try to track down the source of the allergen and see if any of your coworkers are having the same reaction. You may find that something new has been introduced into the work environment. For example, if your employer provides scrubs laundering services on-site or through an outside vendor, there may have been a fabric softener added to the process. These substances often contain fragrances that can cause problems for everyone with sensitive skin.

Once you’ve found the offending allergen, it’s time to decide whether you can simply avoid it as you work or if it needs to be removed from the work environment. Try to make sure you’ve correctly identified the problem before bringing it up with your supervisor. If she doesn’t have specific information to work with, she may be more likely to dismiss your concerns.

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