Do work outside your “safe zone”?

Looking for suggestions on working in an office environment.  Lots of paper = paper dust/mites.  Lots of dust in general.  Working with the public = germs, lots of them. Requested for no perfumes worn by staff, most comply but there is always that one.Wore an N95 mask one day; boy was that hot.  Speaking of temps, I need it to be fairly cool to breathe well, 68*, but everyone else is cold.  Large air purfier near my cubicle. Mildly scented cleaners. 

But still, here I am on my third week of missing work since December due to asthma exacerbation that is further aggravated by my office environment. Started allergy shots in October 2016, but those are currently on hold until the asthma is more in control.

I've considered temporary disability to get my allergies and asthma under control, as outright not working is not feasible financially.

What kinds of things have you done?



Comments 57

  • Jen

    Hi Laura Jeanne,

    Welcome to AAFA's asthma support forum.  It is tough when your work environment seems to be triggering your asthma.  

    We have several members whose asthma has been triggered by various things at work.  Here is one discussion about .

    We have also talked about  and .

  • K8sMom2002

    Hi, Laura … hugs and welcome! It's tough having to work in an environment that stirs things up for you. 

    The usual things that can help you in your own little cubicle could be:

    • keeping the .
    • a smaller personal air purifier that you use for your cubicle
    • items that you can use to keep yourself cool — I'm thinking of like construction workers or athletes use to beat the heat outdoors. (I've never used that site — it was just what came up in a quick Google search. But I have heard that ladies who have hot flashes have used Frogg Toggs products because they are dry to touch.
    • also, if you can handle a fan stirring up the dust (I wouldn't use it without an air purifier) then you might try a fan as well.
    • Another option if you know someone who is a DIY'er or handy with their hands: make your own portable AC/"swamp cooler."
      • Link to several  
      • Link to a smaller more discreet . 

    You could also ask your boss to upgrade the air filtration filters to ones that will filter out more allergens. 

    Going on temporary disability may or may not be a good idea — definitely talk with your HR department about whether you would also have to pay both your contribution to your health insurance AND your company's (that's how my previous companies were when I had to receive temporary disability due to surgeries). I know that during previous surgery recovery in a past job, I only received 60% of my gross pay, and out of that I had to pay taxes and both my portion of our family's health insurance AND my employer's portion as well. I had to pay that IN ADVANCE, which was extremely difficult when I was also responsible for covering a high deductible. 

    Also, temporary disability is usually an insurance policy-based benefit, and you would need to ask the insurance company that pays for that policy these questions:

    • what documentation do I need to be approved for disability?
    • how long do I have to be out of work without a paycheck before my disability kicks in?
    • is there a lifetime limit on how many weeks of disability benefits I can draw?
    • am I required to also file for Social Security Disability if I apply for temporary disability?

    Hugs … it sounds like you have tried many things, and I do hope they are helping at least a little bit.

  • Kathy P

    Welcome to the community Dr. Monhar.

    Laura – that's really a tough situation. Is there another area that you could request to move your cubie to that would be less dusty?

    There are cooling fan air purifiers like this . Would something like that help?

    Do you think a "lighter" mask would still be effective? Some members have tried including cute cloth ones w/ a replaceable filter layer. I know those N95 can be really hot after a while. I wear one while cleaning and I need to go to another room for a "break" periodically. I can't imagine wearing one all day!

  • Serene

    Yes, I work outside of my safe zone. Unfortunately, I have no choice. There are no jobs in my area, and I have to work.

    I have moved to an office with a window. My work has no scent policy so scent flows freely . Disability is only allowed in my state after several hospitalizations. My asthma is mild so I am not eligible.

     I did the whole workmans comp thing and it was useless and stressful and few doctors would see me. I was better off it.

    My boss even tried to buy a purifier but hr denied it as not medically necessary. I bought my own. I sit between two purifiers at work. 

    I am looking to work somewhere else but sadly I am anchored here and jobs are difficult to come by. I believe other offices will have similar situations.

     I hope to make it to retirement or that by then there will be treatments I can tolerate. But so far there have been none.

    i have tried most prescribe able  treatments and am either suffering side effects or they do not work or I am allergic.

    i have a mask and have tried nasal filters. I have had sinus surgery which has helped.

    sorry you are in this spot. i understand the situation of the bad office environment. I wish I had answers but sadly I can only suggest mild things.

    I hope someday for better awareness on the dangerous effects of scent and dust in the workplace, but I doubt I will see that happen in my state before I retire.




  • Jen

    Serene – Do you think HR would be willing to consider having a no scent policy?

  • Serene

    HR isn't too interested in helping employees. It exists to protect the management and company from lawsuit and I honestly don't want to speak to them about anything. I've done it twice now, and both times they made my life really hard. 

     Last time I had a problem because they painted the office, they lawyered up, had me tested, discovered I have allergies to dust, and pet dander, and a few other things. Of course, because there is not test for paint, it could be unproven paint triggered the asthma, although I knew it to be so and my doctor felt it to be so. They delayed me actually getting medical care for quite some time, and because it was workman's comp the care was poor and given to me from a doctor who reported to the company.

    Building meets osha requirements which are pretty low in reality. Osha requirements are designed for warehouse enviornments, where standards are pretty low regarding dust.

    I have filed 2 workman's comp cases against the company, won one, and lost one, and at this point, I'm sort of done with HR as asking them for anything will just open another workman's comp case which I prefer to avoid.

    The last time I spoke to the boss, he said company has no scent policy. 

  • Kathy P

    Wow, sorry to hear that HR is not being very helpful. That limits your viable options. Do they allow you to modify your personal space to minimize issues?

  • Serene

    It is tolerable during warm months, because I can open the window. I work in a cubicle environment so there really isn't a way to block allergens. My cube mate is considerate and wears no scent, but we have student interns, delivery people, and coworkers and the boss who load scent on.

    During cold months it is harder because It is too cold for the window, and people are frequently sick.

    If I had a good daily controller med, I think it would be far easier, but so far, any med I've tried for controlling asthma or allergies, have bad side effects. I do have a rescue med that works and has no side effects, but I have fallen through the cracks in the medical treatment for asthma. Fortunately, my asthma isn't as bad as others, but, I do wish I could tolerate the drugs. My allergist gave up on me, and my pulmologist keeps trying but so far… NADA

  • Kathy P

    Hugs. I'm sorry the allergist has given up. But glad the pulmo is still trying things. A lot is trial and error to get the best combo of things. My asthma morphed last fall and we are still trying to tweak things to get control back. Meanwhile, it's very frustrating!

  • Serene

    Agreed. As I've aged, my tolerance for meds has decreased. It is frustrating that things I could use before, now make me itch, bleed, or give me a rash or trigger stomach upset.  Few doctors are really able to deal with it. I'm a difficult case, I agree, but I can hardly be that unique, my mom is the same way so I think it is genetic. 

    Fortunately, I still have my rescue inhaler, but I think my symptoms frustrate doctors who aren't accustomed to patients with my degree of chemical sensitivity. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Serene, that's really tough — I hate that your company's management doesn't understand (or care to understand) all the things that can trigger asthma. 

    It sounds like you are doing everything you can to make the situation as bearable as it can be. I'm glad you have a pulmonologist who will keep trying. Research is advancing every day, so maybe new meds or new treatments that you CAN tolerate will be available in the future. 

    For now, know that you and Laura are not alone — we're here for you, whenever you need to vent.

  • Shea

    I am currently on SSDI, but not for asthma alone, I have a disease called Churg Strauss Syndrome which has severe asthma as one symptom, but it was my heart complications (heart attack after eosinophils surrounded my heart) that finally got me the SSDI after 2 appeals and working with a lawfirm. It was difficult. If I had to work, and If / when my condition improves, I would have to work from home to start due to similar reasons. I have been using some of my recovery time looking into options. I jad a neighbor in the psychology field, and there are some teaching jobs now too as places like online schools… my suggestion is researching some from home positions. 

  • Jen

    We have discussed explaining .   Do you think those same strategies could be used to explain things to coworkers as well?  Or do you think you'd have to take a different approach?

  • Laura Jeanne

    Awesome, Jen.  Thank you.

    That thread has so much of what I have encountered, even from my hubby.  One minute he seems supportive and the next he's telling me I need to exercise and eat better and take more vitamins…you get my drift.

    Thanks again.




  • Jen

    How do you handle it when your husband has that "helpful" advice?

  • K8sMom2002

    Shea, I am lucky enough to work from home, and it is a blessing. I no longer have to fight tobacco or perfume or cleaning solutions!

    I will advise you to be careful in your search for remote positions — start with known companies that list telecommute jobs. Another option is to work with a satellite office of an organization — you still have to endure perfume from the public, but you usually have fewer co-workers on-site.

    Laura Jeanne, are you married to my DH? I ask because he's the same way. I have decided that hubbies just believe their job is to fix things, and they can't see how support without suggestions is fixing anything. 

  • Shea

    That's great advice, thank you☺. I will keep it in mind as I am searching around. I do not like things that are too verbal/on the phone because coughing and wheezing are so common for me, and talking to much is difficult some days. I am really considering getting my teaching certification (because I have a bachelor's degree already), and teaching online classes seems fun. I know I will need to get better trained using computers and technology. I am going to start using the online public school for my 5 year old soon to see how it works and if it is something we are inspired by (I have to find inspiring work or I will not be happy, and if I am not completely healthy, I have to be extra happy and inspired to make up for it, lol). I am not expecting complete health (not ruling it out either��), but I do want to get lower on prednisone before risking going back to work…or even paying for certification programs.. because I want to be confident in getting work and being able to work to pay off any loans I will need for certification. It will also be easier to work from home when my son is a little more independent and settled in his education program. I do enjoy teaching my son, so I figured that passion is something I could expand upon to help others and survive off of when I get off of disability one day. 

  • Jen

    Shea – That sounds like a good plan.  When are you planning to start the k12 program with your son?

  • Kathy P

    Laura, is there any type of medical leave you could take until you can get your allergies and asthma more stable? Is that what you meant by temporary disability?

    Shea, online teaching sounds like a great option. Do you already have a teaching certificate? Our district has an adult Ed department that handles the online classes for HS/GED. My DS took a couple like health that wouldn't fit in his schedule. Most of the work was done at home/online, but they had weekly meetings with a teacher in the office to go over things. And they had to take the exams in there too. That might be something in between if you don't want to be quite as isolated as some WFH jobs can feel. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Shea, I went looking … since you're in Florida, I googled the Florida Virtual School (which BTW has a lot of good reviews from websites about online schools) and here's their info about . They're able to take teachers with a temporary certificate … so you COULD possibly do that — plus, you'd have state benefits! Woot!

    Here's more info on how to get a certificate to .

    Laura Jeanne, how is your work situation going? I'm wondering if the reason you like it cooler is because it discourages dust mites … I hope with the weather warming up, things won't be so tough for you.

    Serene, are the twin air filters working still? 

  • Laura Jeanne


    I am currently on an abbreviated schedule. Having been out of the office for over two weeks, my employer is trying to work with me to ensure I don't end up exhausted and sick, again  

    Thank you for asking  


  • Kathy P

    That's great that your employer is working with you don't relapse and wind up sick and exhausted! That definitely sounds like !

  • Jen

    Laura Jeanne – Is the abbreviated work schedule still working out ok for you?

  • K8sMom2002

    Laura Jeanne, it's frustrating to have to be out of work … but it sounds like you have a gem of a boss who is willing to work with you. Does your boss have experience with health issues, too? 

    Serene, how is the winter treating you? Some days here it's warm enough that windows COULD be opened — but then today, it's 35 degrees outside!!!

  • K8sMom2002

    @Laura Jeanne, checking on you to see how you are doing and if your break from work helped you get back on your feet. 

    @Serene, we're still having whiplash weather around here — had to turn on the heater this morning! But it's supposed to be warming up. Crazy weather. How is your weather? Is it affecting your asthma?

  • K8sMom2002

    Oh, wow, Laura Jeanne! So glad to hear that you're doing better — what do you think made the difference?

  • Serene

    Thanks for asking, warmer weather is better for my respiratory issues and I can open windows at work which is nice. Unfortunately we don't have too many warm days. I live in a foggy seaside town with lots of cool breezes but right now there is an extreme pollen bloom and my nose is running. To compound that my body is rebellling against the steroids and the Flonase I can normally take is oddly enough irritating my varicose veins. When I take steroids my veins are really bad and very uncomfortable.

    It started in December but I had no idea why but now I think it was when I started Breo.

    I've seen my gp doctors and finally a vein doctor. The vein doctor said that steroids can cause you to retain water and that can irritate varicose veins. I had to stop taking all steroids and the vein pain has reduced greatly. Quite frustrating because I have been taking steroids for years. Now it appears I'm gettting a very strange side effects I had no issue before starting Breo.

    I'll see my pulmologist in June but I'm frustrated I can't seem to tolerate the meds. It is just odd to start having issues with a med I've taken up until now with no issues. Seems to be other steroids as well. Switched to Rhinocort and had the same issue.

  • Jen

    Serene – Is there any chance you can get in to see one of your doctors before June?  I can certainly understand why you're frustrated with the medicine side effects.

  • Pljohns

    Serene-I feel your pain!  intolerance to side effects and/or allergic reactions to meds seems to be the story of my life!  I got the odd one of developing phlebitis in my legs after taking penicillin!  Happened twice-no more penicillin for me-and it's been the same with every single asthma med on the market-COPD off label is the only med I've tolerated.  I'm so fed up with nebs I've even contemplated trying all of the others again just to see-I know that's not the best idea and I've tried albuteral inhaler but had the same issues.  

  • K8sMom2002

    Wow, that's very frustrating … I'd definitely circle back and talk to your doctor sooner rather than later, even if it's over the phone.

    And unfortunately I have heard of people tolerating meds for many years and then suddenly developing an intolerance or a weird side effect or an allergy. For instance, my mom didn't develop her life threatening allergy to penicillin until she was in her 40s, ditto with morphine. Doctors had never heard of an allergy to morphine, but she was unable to take either morphine or penicillin. 

    Does the vein doctor give you any hope of repairing the varicose veins so that you'd be able to take some of these medications?

  • Serene

    @Pljohns interesting. hadn't heard of that side effect with antibiotics but I'm not surprised. I think antibiotics can cause a lot of hidden health issues and they can trigger others. I think they should be used with caution that is for sure. Especially ones like cipro and Ntirofurtantoin.Do you get irritated veins from asthma meds/steoids? The Vein doctor I saw said this occurred because of water retention from the steroid, but in a typical person they have anti-inflammatory effects. I clearly have never been a typical person. Though

  • Serene

    @K8sMom2002Well to be honest… I'm am rather jaded about  doctors. I realize most online forums will advise a person to see a doctor if they have a health condition, and I do so myself, but I seldom comply with that advice as I'm often worse for seeing a doctor and doctors in my area aren't that great..

    Unfortunately,  I've found in life that they usual aren't really good at trouble-shooting side effects or helping people like me with a tendency to problems and complications from medicines… So June really is soon enough for me. No rush to try another med that won't work or will likely I have an allergic reaction. I've tried many already and haven't been able to tolerate them.

    Not trying to be negative, but I'm at this stage where I feel medications don't really agree with me and doctors are sometimes worse than the problem at hand.

    The vein doctor was a surgeon and as expected when you see someone with a specialty they want to do their specialty. In his case, he wanted to cut my veins out. He sent me off for tests, and they cost about 500 dollars. We learned that my right leg was worse than my left, and hat he wanted to remove them surgically.

    I was a bit leery of this, as this doctor is quite old and doesn't inspire my confidence. He also did not interested in less invasive offerings.

    It didn't matter in the end- the insurance has denied removing my veins is medically necessary. I have a prescription for special compression socks, however, I have yet to make the appointment for that. I dont tend to wear the compression socks previously recommended by my gp as they are very uncomfortable.

    So I'm at this stage, where I'm just not doing anything, not because I don't want to, but more because it is doubtful any of the additional stuff they want to do is going to do will be tolerated by my body.



  • K8sMom2002

    Serene, I hear you on being a not-a-textbook-case and also wanting to strike that balance of necessary/helpful intervention.

    It takes a really good doctor-patient relationship to help work through those kinds of issues when you're not the textbook case, and sometimes it takes a while to find that doctor. It sounds like you've really been trying – sometimes we just get lucky and a new doctor that you click with will move into an area. 

    I hope that will happen to you! 

    There are all sorts of new compression hosiery being sold now — maybe you could try a different brand or kind? It does seem kind of pricey, but it is not invasive or permanent. Here's one website I found — . And there are others as well. A friend of mine has a daughter who has POTS, and she was looking for more colorful, fashion-forward compression hosiery. 

  • Serene

    The only compressions socks I've been able to tolerate are super xxl ones made for pregnant ladies Even though I fit in the regular size they just plain hurt or are too tight after a few minutes. It is weird. In general I don't fit in regular one sized fits all socks either. I have large feet I admit but am not especially heavy it is just the compression is too much.

    I will look at the link. 



  • Pljohns

    So far no problems with steroids and veins-I just won't take penicillin again!  The vasculites was nickel size blood blisters on both legs-from my ankles to mid-thigh.  It hurt to walk, forget shaving and tennis shoes was the only thing I could stand to try and walk in.  The only relief was soaking in hot baths at night-both times it lasted almost 4 months.

  • Laura Jeanne


    Since traditional medicine has not been helpful, have you considered a naturopath or even an osteopath? Both view the human body as a whole and treat it as such. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Laura Jeanne, interesting suggestion on the various types of providers out there. It's good to note that a doctor of osteopathy is a fully licensed doctor who has gone to med school and has had similar training to an M.D. You're right that with a DO, there is an emphasis on preventive care and whole-person care, at least as their mission.

    Here's more about . DD has seen both M.D.'s and D.O.'s, and honestly, we couldn't tell the difference on the specialty level. I have a cousin who is becoming a DO. It is as hard and rigorous as an MD and requires residencies in hospitals to become even a primary care physician.

    A naturopath isn't certified in the same way as an MD or a DO and doesn't go through the same traditional four-years of medical school that the other two types do. Each state regulates how much or how little a naturopath is allowed to do in terms of treating patients, and depending on that "scope of practice," some will be allowed to prescribe certain medications. 

    That's not to say that some people don't find help or relieve through complementary medicine. AAFA had a blog post some time ago where 

    My extended family has wound up seeing a lot of doctors for a wide variety of serious illnesses and injuries over the years, and through that, I've been lucky enough to be exposed to lots of different doctors.

    The one takeaway? MDs and DOs are people, and like people they come in all kinds of personalities. I'm a firm believer that there is a doctor out there who fits a patient's medical needs and personality … but it can take some searching at times. You need a doctor who knows his/her stuff cold … but who can also listen to you, even when your experiences aren't "textbook" and what works for you isn't always the expected thing.

  • Serene

    I don't believe that. . I'll be honest, most docs don't seem worth the money. An educated patient will frequently be more familiar with their condition than an average MD. Specialists are a mixed bag. I've had good doctors before, so I do know they exist. Just haven't seen one in a while. And yes, I've seen many doctors. Perhaps if the regular route of medicines and treatments work  most will be satisfied with your medical care.But if the standard treatments fail, you will find out how limited and useless your doctors actually are.

    Not trying to be unkind to doctors but the current medical training is to push medicines on patients. When that doesn't work, most docs that I've seen don't have a clue.

    As far as alternative doctors and treatments, I haven't found any specifically helpful with asthma or allergies. It might work for other conditions, but those I didn't find do anything.

    Did attempt to see naturopath last year. Was unsuccessful at actually seeing her. she flaked on me twice, the last time, as I was actually driving to her city to make the appointment. I may try another at some point…But I am not wealthy and consulting doctors is costly. I'm skeptical about the naturopath thing anyway as many in my area are also married to scent therapy which I can't abide.

    I have done chiropractor and acupuncture. Neither were effective for allergies or asthma for me, both claiming to have been helpful, but I didn't find that true in my case.

     I may try again at some future point, but the doctors in my area aren't great, and I think they'd rather just treat the easy cases and pass you along if you don't fit the mold. I get it, but I'm done with that.

    Fortunately, my condition is milder than most.

  • K8sMom2002

    Laura Jeanne — it's really tough to hear about experiences like Serene has had.

    Hugs, Serene. I know how it is not to fit that textbook description and to not have regular therapies that have worked on other folks work for you. 

    I'm saying big prayers and sending good that the right treatment plan will come your way by way of the right medical provider — and I agree: educated patients are patients who can better advocate themselves.

  • K8sMom2002

    Laura Jeanne and Serene, how are working conditions now? 

    Serene, have you been able to open your window or is it still too cool in your neck of the woods?

    Laura Jeanne, what about the dust situation and papers at your office? What modifications are you able to make to your work space? As the weather warms up, how are you planning on cooling your cubicle?

  • Jen

    @Laura Jeanne Have you found a mask that will work in the hot weather?

  • Jen

    Some of our other members might have ideas for you.  I know @GigiGibson has a variety of masks she wears.