If you suffer from dust allergies, your office equipment could be making you sick. Dust allergy symptoms can include sneezing, runny nose, itchy, red or watery eyes, coughing, or asthma symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, dust mites are the most common cause of dust allergies. The allergic reaction stems from the proteins in the dust mite's body and feces. There are usually 100-500 dust mites in just one gram of dust (1 gram = 1 paperclip). Grossed out yet? There's more - each mite lives for 30 days and creates 10-20 waste particles/day. Female mites can lay 25-30 eggs during her 30-day life, perpetuating the dust mite population.
Office equipment attracts dust like a magnet. The fans used to keep the equipment from overheating constantly suck in dust, pollen, lint, and dirt particles, which can build up over time. Not to mention the static electricity associated with electronic equipment attracts dust like a moth to a flame. As a result, dust builds up on, in, and around your office equipment.
Dust build-up can be minimized by regularly cleaning the equipment every month or so depending on the work environment. For example, a computer located in a middle school that has multiple users will need to be cleaned more often than a computer located in a clean office environment with only one user. Your laptop, computer, keyboard, monitor, desk phone, and cellphone can easily be cleaned using a damp cloth, condensed air, or mini vacuum. For the more high tech office equipment, such as copier, printer, server, fax machine, postage meter, alarm system, etc., consult the owner's manual for the correct method of cleaning and the types of cleaning agents that can be safely used.
And, don't forget to clean your work area regularly as well! Dust builds up on and around your desk, especially in the corners. Wipe down hard surfaces using natural cleaning agents or environmentally friendly cleaning products to reduce the chemicals introduced in the air. Keeping your desk clutter-free will help to reduce the buildup of dust and molds. However, vigorous cleaning can often pollute the air with more dust and worsen symptoms.
Once the office equipment has been thoroughly cleaned, it's a good idea to cover it with plastic or fabric dust covers when not in use. The dust covers protect against dust, dirt, lint, crumbs, and spills, all of which can shorten the useful life of the equipment. Dust covers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and can be custom made to fit each piece of equipment perfectly. If office equipment is being stored for any amount of time, please review the do's and don'ts for storing electronic equipment for more information.
Clean the Air
Another way to reduce dust pollutants and lessen the severity of your allergy symptoms at work is to use a desktop air purifier with HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air and HEPA filters that meet US Department of Energy standards remove 99.97% of any airborne particles greater than 0.3 micrometers, while smaller or larger particles are trapped with even higher accuracy. When cleaning your office equipment or work area, be sure to set the air purifier on the high setting to help reduce to dust pollutants that are stirred up while cleaning.
If your dust allergy symptoms persist, consult a board certified allergist. They will be able to pinpoint the cause of your allergies and recommend a treatment plan to best suit your needs. Also, inform your employer of your allergies. They may be able to move your work area to a better ventilated part of the office or contact building management to make sure the carpets are vacuumed a couple of times a week and the air filters are changed regularly.
Do you suffer from dust allergies? How have you limited your exposure to dust at work? Please share you experience and tips with us here!