Copier allergy?

Originally Published: April 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 6, 2010
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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 2 - 3 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.  If you are a Columbia Student, you can call x4-2284 or log into Open Communicator to make an appointment. 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.


August 10, 2007


I am by no means a health professional, but I am an environmentalist.

By not closing the lid of the copier, you release that intense light energy into the air, cause oxygen molecules to...

I am by no means a health professional, but I am an environmentalist.

By not closing the lid of the copier, you release that intense light energy into the air, cause oxygen molecules to bust apart and recombine in an 03 (oxygen three) combination. For those of you who remember your middle school science class, 03 is ozone. Ground level ozone is a major pollutant in major cities, and a contributer of smog and global warming. Health effects from inhaling ozone and being in an ozone environment are exactly as you describe. Irritated eyes, itchy throat, lung irritation, and any other mucus membrane can be caused by ozone exposure.

Close the lid to the copier when you use it, and maybe the problem will resolve itself without needing any increased ventilation.

Signed, Enviro Geek

A Note from Alice!

Ozone is a polutant of concern, especially in urban settings. However, while ozone is a byproduct of using copiers, research indicates that the amount is not usually at high levels and ozone tends to break down easily and rapidly. Additionally, no reliable evidence was found to indicate that light is a significant source of ozone from copiers. There are ozone filters availble for copiers to help reduce concerns. As noted in the original answer, good ventilation remains the primary strategy to help prevent problems for those that use copiers often.

- Alice