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Your desk job could be making you sick in ways you're not expecting!

Your desk job could be making you sick in ways you’re not expecting!

At the beginning of August, my department moved to a different building on the college campus where I work. We moved into offices that already had used furniture in them. My office had a really nice desk, a corner-type desk with a hutch. The surface had the appearance of wood. Once I got set up and settled into my new desk and office, I really liked it and didn’t even miss where we were before. However, it wasn’t long before I started having problems. At first, I thought environmental allergies were flaring up. I tossed some facial wipes that I thought were causing problems due to their fragrance. I only had a few left, so it wasn’t a huge waste. There was a trial garden and ecology pond near our new building, and I wondered if the presence of those nearby was adding more pollen into the air, more than I was used to. I didn’t normally feel symptoms or illness with pollen exposure. It was usually run-of-the-mill hay fever symptoms. However, I could think of no other reason for the symptoms. I was already taking Allegra daily to see if it would help with throat irritation.

About two weeks after we moved, I had one of my spells of nausea over the weekend, similar to what I had over Christmas, but it wasn’t nearly that bad. It and the accompanying fatigue were enough, however, to keep me from spending time with my family on Friday, going to a Gwinnett Braves baseball game on Saturday, and going to church on Sunday. I did my usual weekend chores but rested otherwise. After that, I decided to start taking Zantac daily with my Allegra. I still noticed symptoms. I tried using Crock Pot liners in my lunchbox. I cleaned out the mini-fridge I use to store my meals for work just in case. I started washing my zipper bags before putting food into them. At one point, I thought that leaving the labels on the cans when washing them might be a problem because the wet paper would get stuck in the can opener. Who knows if there was enough residue left behind on the labels to cause issues. I ran my can opener through the dishwasher to get it thoroughly cleaned, and then I started removing the labels from cans before washing them. Symptoms persisted. It got to the point that I suspected the liquid soap we had at the sink for hand-washing. It was one of those containers that had the big refill bottle with it. I wondered if the people refilling the soap may have been mishandling the pump somehow, causing the soap to become contaminated. I stopped using the soap there and started going to the hall bathroom to wash my hands with the foaming soap there. I used paper towels to get back to my office without touching door handles and my security card directly with my hands. That was pretty painful to do. I had only just started doing that before a weeklong “staycation”, so I didn’t get to see if that was truly a problem or not until I returned to work following my vacation.

When I returned to work after my vacation, symptoms returned. My first morning back, I had slices of mango with cream cheese spread over the top. In order to fix them, I placed the slices on the desk after wiping it down and spread the cream cheese over the top. I felt pretty miserable after that, and since I had an appointment with my allergist just a couple of days later, I didn’t take any antihistamines. I felt better that evening, however. I still had symptoms after meals the next day, but they were not as bad. I was really confused as to what was causing my symptoms. I began thinking about that first breakfast back at work after my vacation and how it caused me to feel the worst of any of them. My food and utensils had all come into direct contact with my desk. For other meals, I laid out the utensils, so those had touched it, but the food did not. I didn’t feel quite as bad after those meals, although I was still symptomatic. I wondered if the surface of my desk might be the source of my exposures. As stated previously, it was not a new desk. It had been used by others before I moved into the office and began using it. Also, the surface of the desk was not smooth like my countertop in my kitchen at home or the surface of the desk in my old office. I used wipes on those surfaces to clean them with no issues at all. The countertop in my kitchen has been home to all kinds of gluten residue, and wipes were able to remove it. It seemed like the rough surface of the desk in my new office could not be cleaned completely with wipes. I decided then to try not allowing any food or utensil to touch my desk directly. If anything needed to be laid out on the desk, I would put down a paper towel and then place those items on it.

The first day of not allowing any food or utensils to come into contact with my desk, I noticed no exposure symptoms at all. I went an entire week at work without symptoms just by not placing food and utensils directly on the desk. This actually ended up being easier for me to deal with than before, when I was wiping down the surface of the desk. In order to wipe down the desk, I had to get the cannister of wipes, open it, go down the hall to wash my hands, grab a wipe after getting back to my office, wipe down the desk, and then go back and wash my hands again before doing the next thing. Now, I just carefully sit out my food or utensils after washing my hands, and if I need a paper towel, I just grab one when I’m done washing my hands. I also started using the sink in our office area with the liquid hand soap again, and I’ve had no issues with it. I was also thrilled that I didn’t need to use the Crock Pot liners in my lunchbox. It was hard packing it with the liner in it. I did, however, continue washing my zipper bags because I didn’t have to be so careful handling them before removing them from their boxes. I also continued removing the labels from cans before opening them. I no longer had to worry about the label tearing and getting stuck in the can opener, which would happen whether the label was wet or dry.

To this day, I still can’t believe my desk was causing all these issues and that my wipes could not get it clean. It just blows my mind. However, I’m glad I was able to figure out the source of the food issues at work!

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2 Thoughts on “Crazy Contamination Issue: My Desk at Work

  1. I never would have thought about the desk either. Wow.

    • retrogirl77 on September 20, 2016 at 9:17 pm said:

      No kidding! Things were getting to a point where I wanted to give up taking food to work altogether and just subsist on Boost and Ensure shakes throughout the day. It was very frustrating sorting this one out.

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