Dear Alice,

I have an odd problem. Over the past week, my eyes have become incredibly puffy, and I have become increasingly tired. I have no idea what my problem is, except to say that I work for a professor and have been doing a lot of photocopying (sometimes two to three hours a day). Most of the time I don't bother closing the cover to the copier and am now wondering if I am suffering ailments because of it. Is this possible, or is the puffiness and exhaustion unrelated?

Puffy and Exhausted

Dear Puffy and Exhausted,

Puffy eyes and tiredness are often signs of an allergy. Allergies are some of the less desirable responses of the immune system to foreign substances called allergens. The resulting inflammatory response produces such symptoms as runny nose, red itchy eyes, sneezing, hives, headaches, exhaustion, and the like. Although we most often think of things such as pollen, dust, and cat hair as allergens, almost anything containing a foreign substance can cause an immune system allergic response. Most normal home and work environments harbor pollutants that can trigger allergic responses. This may or may not be what's happening to you with the photocopying.

If it is a chemical allergy, the risks of exposure to the allergen can be cumulative, which is why you may only be developing the allergy now. Inhaling the fumes of a photocopier once might not make you sick, but the more chemicals you are exposed to, the greater the chance of your health being negatively affected. Close the cover on the photocopying machine, and also make sure that the room is well ventilated. Keep the window open, put on a fan, and walk away from the copier every few minutes.

No matter what the cause, to get you through this stressful time, you can try over-the-counter antihistamines or visit with your health care provider to discuss treatment options. Also, pay attention to your stress level and your eating plan. The more positive your mental attitude and emotional state, the less you are stressed by your environment, and the more adequate your nutrition, the more responsive and functional your immune system will be. A healthy immune response may cause your symptoms to decrease or disappear.


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