Those of you who are located in the Northern Hemisphere surely know that it's the season of airborne pollen, which in some people can cause serious allergic hay fever, rhinitis and asthma.

I am one of the victims of this epidemic and in addition to sneezing (which I can control to an extent), the most audible symptom is sniffling (reflex of drawing air through nose multiple times to try clear the airways - happens also when you have a cold or runny nose!). Unfortunately I cannot switch these symptoms off when I am at work and some people who are not affected by the illness seem to not understand this and are quite irritated.

Two such colleagues whom I work with in different teams were really stern about this and said into my face remarks such as:"Stop that, it's really annoying.", "Can you please stop that? It's getting on my nerves!" My reaction was to try and forcibly repress the sniffling - but that worsens the symptoms... and I start all over again. (FYI for those unfamiliar: unlike colds, you cannot just "blow your nose" and all... hay fever is an allergic reaction i.e. the body thinks you are under attack and tells all of other body parts to work together to compensate).

How to deal with such people, especially in the heat of the moment, as soon as they direct the criticism? Honestly, I felt a bit hurt as they were essentially asking me to do something I had no real control over... which is almost a bit like torture. In general, hay fever is a torture, and medicine doesn't always help.

What to do in situations like these?

P.S.: The symptoms can last for months, so I cannot simply take holiday when everyone else is missing, too.

  • 1
    Are you in an open area or cube farm, or do you have an office? Because I'm in a cube farm, and listening to constant sniffling makes it VERY hard to concentrate on my own work, and is more distracting to me than frequent nose-blowing. Jun 26, 2014 at 18:10
  • I am in an open area Jun 26, 2014 at 19:03
  • 1
    This seems very close to your other question - is it specifically for how to deal with coworkers vs. management?
    – Codeman
    Jun 26, 2014 at 22:21
  • This is about how to deal with annoyed co-workers. The other one is about how to communicate with management due to issues in my performance. Jun 26, 2014 at 23:41
  • How do you currently respond when the co-workers harangue you like this?
    – sturrockad
    Jun 27, 2014 at 7:14

4 Answers 4


My son had a similar problem (allergic to more than just pollen) and I can attest that having to listen to sniffling for a period of time really, really, really does get on your nerves. And I love my son very much and I knew it wasn't his fault. Yet, you can't help that it gets on your nerves. Your co-workers don't love you (if they even like you), so I can imagine their tolerance is much lower than mine with my son. So their being shrill with you may not be intentional, just that having to listen to it over time can make one really irritable.

Knowing that your allergies do indeed have a negative impact on your co-workers (I know much more so on you, but you asked what you can do) then I think it really rests on you to resolve the issue and get it under control. Even if it means seeing a dozen different doctors until one helps. That's what we did. We had to drive 1 1/2 hours each way to see this particular allergist and he finally got not only the sniffling but the "raw skin" from scratching under control. He had to be at least the 12th doctor, if not more. My wife would not accept the "we can't do anything more, just wait for him to outgrow it" for an answer and it paid off.

The end result was a couple of core medications, but when those didn't work we had 3 or 4 different backups including a nasal spray, and when that didn't work it was time for the steroid medication. Thankfully, my son has outgrown most of these problems. But the bottom line is if the doctor you are seeing isn't helping then go see someone else. There's someone out there who can help; you just need to find them.

So what you can tell your co-workers is that you are aggressively attempting to get this under control and you are sorry for it annoying them. I really don't think you can hold it against them that they are irritable from having to listen to sniffling all day long.


You simply have to educate people the minute you meet them, even if it's between sneezes. The first thing you should say is that "it's not contagious". The second thing is that it's allergies, you have strong allergies, you have an absolutely miserable time of it and you apologize in advance for the sneezing and snifling.

You should really see your doctor, if you haven't already, and ask for prescriptions that ease your symptoms.

Ask for a somewhat more isolated cubicle space, if that's doable.

Assuming that you get this isolated space, if possible, limit your contact with others to telephone - you can always put your hand on the speaker half of the phone to muffle your sneezing and sniffling - and IM.

And then, there is the nuclear approach - working remotely :)

Good luck to you :)

  • I believe OP meant how to deal with the coworker's reactions, not with his disease or how to ease other people's perception of it. Jun 26, 2014 at 0:03
  • 3
    @EnriqueP 1. The workers' reactions are based on their perceptions, so the perceptions have to be taken care of. 2. The workers' reactions are clearly negative. Getting the OP into a situation where the OP is isolated enough and has a measure of control over the expression of the OP's symptoms will go a way toward minimizing the negativity of the workers' reactions. Jun 26, 2014 at 6:06

I'm allergic to pollen as well. I handle it using a variety of ways:

  1. "Don't worry, I'm not sick. I'm allergic to pollen". (I don't use the phrase "hay fever" because people hear "fever" and freak out.)
  2. Minimize symptoms. This has the added benefit of making you feel better. I find drinking cold water from a cup to help. Granted it doesn't help for long periods of time, but it helps a little.
  3. Take more breaks. Walking around helps me. Probably just psychologically, but it does.
  4. When in a meeting where sneezing would be especially inappropriate, I lick the roof of my mouth. Also breathing through my mouth minimizes symptoms.

I'm not saying minimize symptoms is always the solution. But sometimes you have to. Beyond that, ignore them. Or ask if it is ok to turn on the radio so you aren't the loudest thing around.

  • "I lick the roof of my mouth". Wait, what? That stops you from sneezing?
    – Fredrik
    Jun 26, 2014 at 7:41
  • @Fredrik in the short term yes. It's more like it puts it off. There is a connection between the mouth and the nose. Try it. You'll feel yourself breathing in. Jun 27, 2014 at 0:16
  • @Fredrik Holding your finger under your nose (parallel to the ground) can sometimes stop a sneeze too. It may have to do with breathing in your own scent versus whatever scent is triggering the sneeze.
    – mkennedy
    Jun 27, 2014 at 23:55
  • 1
    @mkennedy Interesting. I'll have to try that one! If making a fist while doing that, it can be disguised as thinking really hard! Jun 28, 2014 at 1:26

One thing you can say to your colleagues is:

"I'm working with my doctor to try to reduce the symptoms, but so far, this is the best we can do! I'm sorry that you find it annoying."

Hopefully it's a true statement, and you are working with a doctor. It acknowledges the problem and lets them know that you are actively working on the issue.

Side note: I haven't tried it, but I have acquaintances who swear by nasal irrigation (search 'neti pot'). One races bicycles semi-professionally so comes into contact with a lot of allergens. Have a study.

  • 1
    Hi, the question is really about how to deal with the people. Medical advice would be off topic here; also, we're looking for more than just a one-line answer. Can you please edit as per How to Answer. Thanks.
    – jmort253
    Jun 26, 2014 at 3:27
  • @jmort253 My quote is exactly that--what to respond to colleagues who complain. And just about every other answer has included medical advice as well so I'll take the downvotes.
    – mkennedy
    Jun 26, 2014 at 16:59
  • 1
    But your post includes only medical advice, and has nothing to back up that you know what you're talking about, which is important for the 80 to 90% of visitors to this site who don't have accounts. To them, we're just random people on the Internet making statements. We're really looking for answers that follow the six guidelines in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Hope this helps clarify.
    – jmort253
    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:07

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