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The Impact of Allergies and Allergy Treatment on Worker Productivity

Burton, Wayne N. MD; Conti, Daniel J. PhD; Chen, Chin-Yu PhD; Schultz, Alyssa B. MS; Edington, Dee W. PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: January 2001 - Volume 43 - Issue 1 - p 64-71
Original Articles

Allergic disorders are a chronic and highly prevalent condition in the general population and the workforce. Their effect on workers and corporate costs go beyond the direct cost of treatment, as the condition can lower a worker’s productivity. Previous research includes estimates of the decrease in productivity associated with allergic disorders. None of these studies, however, offered an objective measure of how worker productivity is affected by allergic disorders. In the present study, the productivity of telephone customer service representatives suffering from allergic disorders is examined before, during, and after the ragweed pollen season. In addition, these workers were surveyed as to the type of medication they used in response to their condition. A significant correlation was observed between an increase in pollen counts and a decrease in productivity for workers with allergies. Compared with workers without allergies, employees with allergies who reported using no medication showed a 10% decrease in productivity. No differences were observed among workers with allergies using different types of medications, although the medication groups had significantly higher productivity than the no-medication group. The expected lowered productivity of those workers with allergies who used sedating antihistamines may have been offset by their relatively lower level of symptom severity and by the nature of the job and the productivity measures used.

From Bank One (Dr Burton, Dr Conti), Northwestern University Medical School (Dr Burton), and DePaul University (Dr Conti), Chicago, Ill.; and the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center (Dr Chen, Ms Schultz, and Dr Edington).

Address correspondence to: Wayne N. Burton, MD, Senior Vice President/Corporate Medical Director, Bank One, Mail Code IL1-0006, 1 Bank One Plaza, Chicago, IL 60670-0006; e-mail

Copyright © by American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.