Allergies Contribute to Economic Implications In the Workplace

March 10, 2003
Do unmanaged allergies impact employee productivity more than stress, depression and anxiety? The answer could be "yes," according to a new study.

Results from the study presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting show that allergic rhinitis costs employers millions of dollars annually. Specifically, a study of 40 U.S. employers found that the employers lost $5 million in one year due to workers with allergies. Compared with other common, chronic health conditions in the study, allergic rhinitis caused the highest costs for employee absenteeism ($1,537,364), presenteeism (lost productivity at work due to illness)($3,396,291) and total productivity loss for employers ($4,933,655), costing an average of $597 per-employee, per-year, significantly more than stress ($518), depression ($273) and anxiety ($250).

"These data confirm the severe impact illnesses, such as allergies, can have on productivity in the workplace," said Paul Ratner, M.D., M.B.A., lead investigator and practicing allergist-immunologist in San Antonio, Texas. "It's important that patients have access to a variety of affordable allergy treatment options so that they can find the one that provides optimal relief and lets them get back to their daily activities."

The study, which was sponsored by Pfizer Inc., manufacturer of allergy medications, involved 8,267 employees at more than 40 employer locations. The employees took the Wellness Inventory, a questionnaire that assessed the impact of 11 health conditions on workplace productivity, including allergic rhinitis, pediatric allergy, stress, migraine, depression, arthritis and anxiety; and four caregiver conditions including Alzheimer's disease and pediatric respiratory tract infection.

According to the data, allergic rhinitis was the most prevalent health condition in the workplace with more than half (55 percent) of employees reporting symptoms. Specifically, employees who reported allergy symptoms:

  • Suffered an average of 52.5 days per year but only took 3.56 sick days due to allergic rhinitis.
  • Lost 2.3 hours of productivity per day (113 hours per year) when experiencing symptoms at work.

Caregiving by employees for children with allergies also impacted employers' bottom lines, resulting in total productivity losses of $701,502 ($351,722 due to absenteeism, $349,730 due to presenteeism). In addition, the mean total per-employee per-year productivity loss due to caregiving for pediatric allergy ($85) was significantly greater than that for otitis media ($42), but not significantly different than Alzheimer's disease ($50) and pediatric respiratory tract infection ($103).

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