my boss asked me to leave my desk every time I sneeze or blow my nose

A reader writes:

I am having a problem and I hope that you can help. I have been having terrible sinus problems for several months now. I am sneezing and blowing my nose constantly despite high doses of allergy medications and decongestant. I had sinus surgery almost 2 years ago, but suddenly it is bothering me again. I am seeing an ENT and allergist to try to get to the bottom of this and get some relief.

In the meantime, at work, my manager asked me to blow my nose and sneeze in the bathroom or an unused office. Doing so is causing me to to take much longer to do my work. I know it is gross and I completely understand why people want me to do so with all the nasty illnesses going around. I am just unsure of how to get my work done and still run to an empty office or bathroom every two minutes.

Go back to your manager and say something like this: “I absolutely want to be considerate to others and not distract people by constant nose-blowing and sneezing. But leaving my desk to do it each time means that I’d be leaving my desk literally every two minutes, which would have a real impact on my productivity. Are there other solutions we could try? I’d be willing to sit in a different location or work from home some of the time, or whatever else would minimize the impact on others.

It’s also worth finding out whether your manager’s concern is to keep you from spreading germs or to keep people shielded from the distraction of regular sneezing/blowing sounds. If it’s more the former, you might point out that what you have is a sinus problem, not something contagious.

But the key here is to talk about this in way that’s sensitive to other people’s need to focus — because if you’re really sneezing or blowing your nose every two minutes, it probably is driving your neighbors batty. That’s not your fault (and I don’t mean to imply that you’re unconcerned about the impact on others; you don’t sound like that at all), but it’s worth stressing that you’re sympathetic to that and that you want to come to a solution that works for everyone. (And that solution is probably going to have to involve you working from a more isolated part of the office or from home for a while, if that’s possible with the type of work you do.)

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Allison*

    Reminds me of the manager who told me I needed to sneeze more quietly. He honestly thought I was sneezing forcefully on purpose, and that it was somehow a thing I could control.

    Honestly, I could see how some may think nose blowing is a yucky thing you should only do in the bathroom (although I personally disagree, when you gotta blow you gotta blow), but who has time to run to the bathroom when they feel a sneeze coming on? The Flash? Sonic the Hedgehog?

    If the constant sneezing and nose blowing really is distracting people, then I agree with AAM, the most reasonable solution is to have OP work from home until the problem is resolved. That said, while it’s entirely possible this is bothering people, this could also be a case of a bored, control-freak manager looking for something to crack down on.

    1. fposte*

      To be fair, sneeze noises are actually controllable to some extent. I can be quite a loud sneezer if I don’t rein myself in.

      1. Allison*

        Then I seem to be lacking that skill . . . as a kid I was never admonished for sneezing too loudly, and I was certainly never taught how to keep them quiet. Any advice?

        1. LBK*

          I think trying to make sure you aren’t vocalizing while you do it helps – there’s somewhat of a natural reflex to speak/make a noise from your throat when you sneeze, and if you can shut that off so it’s just the nose sound, that might help.

          (I don’t know if I’m explaining this well at all, but as a fellow loud sneezer I feel your pain! I am always the one that makes heads turn across the office…)

          1. Allison*

            Oh yeah, I’ve heard people do that, some people sound like they’re screaming in pain or being attacked and it freaks me out! I don’t think I’m doing that, nor am I aware of any variation of “aaah-choo!” or even the cutesy “eeeh-CHEW” that some women make, but I can certainly pay more attention to any vocal sounds I make next time I sneeze.

              1. Allison*

                Not crazy. Guy was young, new to management, and under a lot of pressure from the higher-ups, so it’s possible little flaws in our work styles (anything that could possibly be perceived as an issue) made him anxious. Or he didn’t really know how to separate human flaws that couldn’t be helped from bad habits that could be fixed. Either way, as much as I disliked working for him, in hindsight I sympathize with the position he was in.

            1. Koko*

              I actually make the high-pitched noise because the movements involved in producing the “natural” sound of a sneeze (doing nothing to alter/suppress my bodily reaction) is uncomfortable and very mildly painful for me, it creates this violent sensation in the back of my nose and sometimes makes snot shoot out of my nose. If I make the high-pitched, “eh CHOO!” squeak, it’s very quiet and it directs the force of the sneeze out my mouth instead of out my nose which is less uncomfortable for me and eliminates airborne snot. I’m also a serial sneezer, 3-7 per episode always. A lot of the smaller/faster ones just come out without any vowel behind them so it sounds like, like, “Tch! Tch! Tch! eh CHOO!”

            2. Melissa*

              I completely involuntarily do the little “eee-chew!” sneeze. I can turn it off if I am consciously thinking about it and I feel a sneeze coming on, but my natural sneeze sounds like that and if I’m caught off guard – that’s how it sounds, lol. I have gotten multiple comments on how cute/fake my sneezes sound, lol!

          2. fposte*

            Right, it’s the vocalization. Just inhale and exhale rather than say “Ah!” and “Choo!”

            I’m not as screamy as some, but it’s really much louder than it needs to be, and I do try to remember to be quieter.

          3. Relosa*

            This – aside from those weird ones that come out of nowhere with no itch, I’ve been able to kind of control my sneezes, at least the small-to-medium ones. My mom has a weird reflex though and she literally can’t stop from yelping – it’s kind of funny, but very annoying if she goes on a long streak.

          4. NoPantsFridays*

            Wow, this is exactly what I’ve been noticing and wasn’t able to pinpoint. For some reason I try NOT to make a sound with my mouth, and have since childhood. However, most of my family and friends seem to YELL when they sneeze, one of them literally makes a roar-like noise like something is rupturing in her throat.

        2. Vancouver Reader*

          Sneeze into a tissue, that helps muffle things and there wont’ be any spraying. Not saying you spray now when you sneeze, but it also would help people feel more comfortable that any potential germs are contained.

          1. fposte*

            There’s a tradeoff, though–the “vampire sneeze” into the crook of your elbow is more hygienic because you’re not dousing your hands. Maybe put tissue on your sleeve :-)?

              1. mel*

                Ha! Unless your arms are bare and you accidentally end up making a huge “farting” sound instead, LOL

        3. CaliSusan*

          My mom has the LOUDEST sneezes known to man — when I was a kid, it was the easiest way to find her if we got separated in a grocery store. So, you know, there are some benefits if you look hard enough :-)

        4. April*

          Sneeze into your shoulder or upper arm. Muffles it almost completely (plus helps prevent any possible germs from becoming airborne).

      2. alma*

        To some extent, but I’ve also read some horror stories about people who literally injured themselves trying to hold back a sneeze (one guy sprained his neck IIRC!!), so I’m not too comfortable expecting people to do that.

        1. fposte*

          You don’t have to hold it back–just don’t vocalize while you’re doing it. (Neck guy should have just gone with the finger under the nose, which works quite well.)

              1. Cat*

                I feel like tissue usually handles most of that? I just haven’t found the finger on the nose thing to work; I usually just end up sneezing on my finger, which is fine as handwashing is important after a sneeze anyway, but less contained than sneezing into my hands or elbow or a tissue.

                1. fposte*

                  Agreed that it’s less contained, and if you know you don’t have luck with the philtrum pressure thing it’s probably not worth trying.

                  But I’m skeptical about the urban-legendish folks who’ve had terrible physical catastrophes from holding sneezes, too.

                2. Meg Murry*

                  Pressing your tongue on the roof of your mouth is surprisingly effective for those sneezes you feel coming to either hold it off until you get a tissue in hand or possibly even avoid sneezing altogether. For the ones that take you by surprise though – nothing is going to stop those.

                  Another thought – there are certain cultures in which blowing your nose is considered EXTREMELY rude. Not that its ever the most polite thing in the world in US culture, but from what I understand in Japanese culture it is up their with burping or farting in regards to rudeness. Any chance the OP is dealing with an office culture that considers her to be horribly disgusting and rude because of cultural issues?

          1. Judy*

            Yep, it’s amazing how my husband can sneeze in pubic and it’s not very loud, but at home it’s this big Ahhh-choooo.

            1. Formica Dinette*

              Yours or his? ‘Cause if it’s his, he could make a lot of money in a certain NSFW industry. ;)

        2. HR Manager*

          Yes, it’s not uncommon for folks to have a burst capillary in their eye if they try to muffle a big sneeze, so I wouldn’t try to rein in so much, as muffle with plenty of tissue or handkerchief.

          I have terrible sinuses and allergies so I sympathize with the OP. I’ve had times where I feel like sneezing 10x in a row through out the day, and it’s a miserable experience. To have to run to the bathroom each time is ridiculous. You might was well just work in a bathroom stall. If it bothers the manager or the team that much, I’d see if I could request a seat change to a more quiet corner or area where it would be less disruptive.

      3. Aunt Vixen*

        I don’t know, dude. If I could control anything about my sneezing, it would be my approximately 90% tongue-biting rate. Ow. (I can control whether I vocalize, though, if that’s what you mean. But even without, the noise is plenty loud. Sadness.)

      4. mortorph*

        Although its not necessarily the healthiest thing to do. There is a lot of pressure build-up during a sneeze.

        1. Dmented Kitty*

          Yes, I think that if people could sneeze with their eyes open, their eyeballs would fly out.

      5. Traveler*

        Yeah. I’m notorious because 90% of the time I can stop a sneeze in its tracks or have one of those polite lady like “a-choo’s”. Mostly its just taking a succession of small deep breaths when I feel one coming on. I hate doing it – sneezing happens for a reason, but I also have seasonal allergies and I can’t stand to sneeze that many times.

    2. KJR*

      I actually have a co-worker who, every time he hears me sneeze, says “c’mon! You gotta let those out!” It’s so odd. And I’m not holding it in!

      1. Jamie*

        My husband has one of those little quiet sneezes which sounds painful like he’s stifling it on purpose – but he’s not as it’s the only quiet thing about him.

        1. Chelsea B.*

          If you keep your mouth open, a sneeze becomes this weird cough thing. It’s not the most sanitary, because you’re coughing, but it is much quieter. I’ve heard putting a finger between your teeth keeps your mouth open for this (because you won’t bite your own fingers) but again…gross fingers now. But it’s quiet!…and a little weird.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I still sometimes make this weird “snough” sound. It dates back to high school, when for some reason the other kids made fun of me if I sneezed but ignored me if I coughed, even with all other things being equal (like having a tissue). I still don’t quite get the logic. But at any rate, I started making my sneezes sound like coughs and it still comes out that way sometimes.

            1. Anon Cougher*

              Whereas I learned to disguiss my coughs as sneezes because my parents gave me such a hard time about coughing.

    3. Gene*

      I ended up in the ER once from a sneeze – and I didn’t even try to hold it in. Strained a muscle on my sternum. The sudden onset of heavy chest pain made me go to the walk-in clinic on the next block. They triaged me and called the ambulance because my BP was way up. Of course it was, I thought I was having a heart attack!

      1. Ezri*

        Back in college I managed to crack a rib by coughing too hard during one of my various dorm-inflicted illnesses. I thought I was dying – my doctor was pretty amused when he figured it out.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        I’ve strained one of those muscles before too (woke up with the chest pain the day after going to the gym), and also went straight to an emergency medical clinic because I thought I was having a heart attack. The doctor said “does this hurt?” and jabbed me right in the pulled muscle, I said “OW!” and he laughed and said “you’re fine”. Apparently it happens really often, which made me feel like less of an idiot!

  2. Cat*

    I know it’s kind of annoying, but there’s a lot of sounds in an office – I can’t imagine a sneeze every couple of minutes being worth the productivity hit that usually comes from shifting an in-office worker’s work to home. (Though I know that in certain jobs, that’s not an issue.)

    1. Kyrielle*

      Leaving your desk every 2 minutes would come with a bigger productivity hit in my office – I’d never get anything done. And that leaves off the half hour meeting I have every day, and any other meetings that came up.

      1. Cat*

        Absolutely – that is not a reasonable solution. (A temp office out of the way, on the other hand, seems like a win-win.)

  3. fposte*

    Even if the OP isn’t blowing her nose because of being sick, though, the result isn’t sterile. She might consider prominently using hand sanitizer if that seems like it’s part of the concern.

    1. Elysian*

      At the risk of sounding like a disgusting human being, not every workplace needs to be “sterile” though. If the OP is using adequate tissues or is sneezing into her sleeve, and she isn’t sick, this really isn’t worse than touching most people coffee cups. Everyone’s keyboard, mice, and chair arms are probably already covered in their own gross germs. It isn’t sterile, for sure,but if you work in an environment that needs to be actually sterile you’re probably already taking a lot of precautions. Not to discourage the OP from using hand sanitizer or washing her hands regularly, but its probably more “clean theater” than it is actually necessity.

      1. fposte*

        Heh–I love “clean theater.” I’m with you in that it doesn’t particularly bother me, but if that’s part of what’s bothering the OP’s boss, I think that it’s actually worth considering a bit of production to counter the production.

      2. Traveler*

        Some people (roughly 20% of the pop.) are staph carriers though – and it typically resides in your nasal passages if you are. While there’s lots of staph and strep bumping around everywhere, someone sneezing a lot would probably increase that number significantly.

        1. Melissa*

          Regular staph is way better than methicillin-resistant staph, which is what we’re all going to have if we use hand sanitizer overzealously.

          (I’m exaggerating, of course, but still…)

    2. Melissa*

      Overuse of hand sanitizer is probably more harmful in the long run than regular sneezing/blowing your nose, although it tends to make people feel better.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    I think New Jersey has a tent you can use :)

    OP – sorry you’re feeling so crappy, and I hope you get it resolved soon. I agree that the best solution is finding one that enables you to do your work but minimizes the noise.

    I totally sympathize though – I was on an international flight a few months ago with a terrible lung infection and was coughing constantly. It was miserable for me but I felt ever worse for everyone around me. I was popping cough drops like they were going out of style but they didn’t do much good. Oh, the dirty looks.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      I try not to glare, but I’ll tell you what, I have similar feelings toward the people coughing and snorting and otherwise making ill-sounding noises on the metro every day. I’m sure they’re doing their best to keep it to themselves, and I know we all have to go to work and can’t just lock ourselves in a room until we stop sneezing, but I also try very, very hard not to touch anything on the train. Ever.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        back when I used to go to church, I HATED the hand-shaking for peace part. Because I felt like I was inevitably in front of someone who’d been hacking up a lung the entire service. Ewww.

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          And this is why I refused to drink the communal wine throughout my years as a Catholic. No way can you tell me to never ever share drinks w/ someone lest I die of meningitis but then expect me to make an exception at mass.

          1. Koko*

            Somehow I never got this memo. I remember one family holiday meal vividly where I made an off-handed comment about a friend of mine who always gulps too much when he asks for a sip of your drink, and my entire family being aghast to hear that I share drinks at all. Not only have I always shared drinks with friends, it’s been common in multiple different social circles I’ve run in over the years. I’ve never run into any peers who have a taboo against drink-sharing and was flabbergasted to hear that my family did.

            1. No sharing saliva with me...*

              Really? I never, ever eat or drink after others and can’t fathom why anyone would want to. Back in college cafeteria days (required meal plan for all…), there were some who thought nothing of taking bites of each other’s food with used forks… ew! If I’m sharing food with you (a large piece of dessert that neither of us wants an entire serving of, for example), we will get a second plate, divide the food using a *clean* knife and fork, and then eat our separate portions separately, thank-you-very-much. If you want just a bite of my food just to try it, that’s fine – but you need to get a clean fork and only take one bite with that fork. Oh, and do NOT double dip your chips (or veggies, or french fries) in the common dip. Either get your own dollop of dip on your own plate or only dip each piece of food one time, even if it takes you two bites to get the piece into your mouth. /end of rant

              1. Traveler*

                If you’re living in a dorm environment, the shared food/forks would probably be the least of your worries! They’re not much better than ships and prisons for the ease of germ communication.

                1. No sharing saliva with me...*

                  It was a long time ago, but yes, I did live in a dorm setting at the time. The stats you refer to on germ communication in close quarters are true enough, but even in that suboptimal environment there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself from whatever bugs are going around. I got sick only once in all four years I was there, and even then not sick enough to skip class. So some part – or maybe the overall combination – of what I did to stay in good health must have worked pretty well.

            2. Artemesia*

              Great way to share meningitis, mononucleosis and the common cold or flu. AND almost everyone spits back when drinking — backwash is there whether you think you do it or not. Sharing drinks is sharing whatever germ the sharers have. Most of the time it is only a cold but not always.

          2. Traveler*

            Haha. I don’t either – but the theory there is that the wine, being alcohol, is acting as a sterilizing agent.

            1. louise*

              Don’t forget the silver! I don’t know all the science behind it, but germs just don’t live on silver the way they do on other surfaces. Otherwise cold sores and such would be a greater risk from communal cups.

              1. CC*

                I’ve seen studies recently that show solid silver doesn’t do anything against germs. It has to dissolve to kill things.

                I don’t know if a splash of wine has enough concentration of alcohol applied for enough time to kill the germs, let alone the germs applied to the glass by the lower lip on the outside of the cup, which the wine generally doesn’t touch at all.

          3. louise*

            That’s is wine in a silver cup is the only reason I’ll do it. The antimicrobial and antibacterial properties combined with the alcohol level of the port used at my church keeps me happy enough to drink from the communal chalice. But grape juice out of silver? Nope. Wine out of anything besides silver? Nope.

            And if I’m sick or am feeling grossed out by any coughing from others, then I intinct.

          4. Lamington*

            I can’t do that either, put your lips where hundreds of lips have been, I don’t think the priests rinse with soap those cups.

            1. Chinook*

              The ceremonial cleaning done on the altar is not the last step with the chalice. I have spent enough time in the sacristy to confirm that the dishes are washed in soap and water (the sink there empties straight into the ground and not the sewage system and is only used for sacred cleaning). As well, both species are not required and many bishops discourage and even outright ban the distribution of the “wine” (we believe it is more than that but the word works) during flu season or epidemics.

              Plus, if you can believe that the celebratr changes wine to the blood og God, is it that much of a jump to believe he also purifies it? Now baptismal water that has had babies dunked in it (and the natural bodily reaction that occurs when dunked in room temp. water) is another thing completely.

        2. Aunt Vixen*

          Up in the choir loft, my colleagues and I quite literally give each other “the sign of peace”–the peace sign that looks like V for Victory. Sometimes there’s handshaking and obviously if people are so contagious they can’t touch other people they’re not coming and singing all over them that day, but there is quite a lot less touching up there than in the pews. (Where on Good Friday, I kid you not, there was an altar server with a Lysol wipe swabbing down the True Cross after each congregant had venerated it. It’s not my faith, so I have to be careful not to laugh.)

      2. Allison*

        In some parts of the world, like Japan, sick people wear face masks out in public so they don’t infect other people. I know that over here it might be seen as some sort of shaming device, but part of me wishes it would catch on.

        Also, this is EXACTLY why people who take public transit need to get flu shots, and why everyone should have at least a few sick days a year.

    2. Jules*

      I am one of those who catches everything from anyone so I am one of those who would give dirty looks, sorry. I just get so dang paranoid and get sick when I am in contact with sick people :/

  5. LBK*

    If the manager pushes back, I think it might also be worth pointing out that the coworkers are just as likely to be annoyed by the OP not being able to get anything done as by hearing a sneeze every 2 minutes (assuming the OP’s coworkers have work that relies on the OP). I’d much rather put in some headphones to drown out the noise than get behind on projects because my manager is making my coworker spend half the day in the bathroom blowing her nose.

  6. alma*

    I have a bit of misophonia where repetitive nasal sounds are concerned, but even I think it’s excessive to ask someone to leave their desk for every sneeze or nose-blow. (Like Allison mentioned above, how does that even work for sneezing?) I would hope your manager is reasonable enough to agree to one of the compromises suggested.

    1. Cheeky*

      I have MAJOR misophonia, and I think this is unreasonable, though I would also find constant nose blowing/snorting intolerable. OP is not in a good situation and has my sympathies.

  7. Texas in Maryland*

    My husband has had these types of problems for TWO YEARS, and I’m ready to make him live in the garage. So I understand the levels of crazy you’re driving your coworkers to. Would it be possible for you to work in that empty office?

    1. Formica Dinette*

      Yep, this sounds like the perfect opportunity for OP to ask if they can move to the empty office or work from home.

  8. Turanga Leela*

    So sympathetic, OP. I’ve had sinus problems, and more than once, I’ve been the person sneezing and nose-blowing during college and graduate school exams. (There was never a way to take the exam in another room where I wouldn’t bother people.) Some thoughts:
    1) Get hand sanitizer and disinfectant (spray or wipes) to keep at your desk area, if you haven’t already. Throw out your tissues promptly, use the hand sanitizer frequently, and wipe down your desk every evening. That will help your coworkers feel more comfortable and less worried about germs.
    2) I’ve sometimes found sinus relief from combinations of non-medication remedies. In particular, I seem to do well with spicy food, daily steam exposure—I take a long shower, then sit in the bathroom afterward with a book—and, weirdly, Diet Coke. I think the caffeine relaxes my sinuses or something.
    3) I’m sure you have tried all the sinus medicines out there, but I’ll say it anyway: nothing works for me like a combination of Advil (for sinus pain) and real Sudafed. Once I get home, I use Vapo-Rub and sometimes NyQuil.

    I hope your sinus issues clear up soon!

    1. Lore*

      I also have a lot of success with steam–and a hot washcloth on the face, followed by excessive nose-blowing. Mucinex has also been helpful alongside my prescription allergy meds when things get really congested.

      1. FloridaNative*

        Hey, me too!

        I get this stuff called White Flower Balm– you can order it online. It’s basically menthol, peppermint oil, wintergreen oil, eucalyptus, and lavender oil…great for sore muscles.

        Also great for allergies if you throw 3-5 drops in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, and inhale the steam. Make sure you close your eyes first, though, or they will sting like you’ve put Icy Hot on your eyelids.

    2. Allison*

      Do you ever use a saline spray? I’m not implying it’s a magic bullet, but it’s certainly another thing to try adding to your routine. It’s easier to use at work than, say, a steamy shower or warm compress, and since it’s just saltwater you don’t need to worry about overdosing. I definitely use it alongside sudafed when my sinuses are being naughty.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Don’t know if you’re asking me or the OP, but I don’t use saline spray or a Neti pot. People tell me I should, but having fluid go up my nose is just too unpleasant for me, and my sinus issues have never been severe enough to force me to do it.

        I’ve also discovered that whenever possible, I should avoid sniffing and even blowing my nose. Blowing seems to make things back up in my sinuses. I try just to wipe my nose to keep it from running. (I also make the “tissue walrus” at home, but obviously that’s not an option at work.)

        1. louise*

          I didn’t realize people called it anything other than “stuffing tissue up my nose.” This makes me happy. :)

        2. Nina*

          “Tissue walrus.” I miss Futurama. :(

          Neither the saline or the Neti Pot worked for me. The Neti Pot was interesting, but it had no effect on my allergies or sinus issues.

        3. Hlyssande*

          I have the same thought regarding a neti pot myself. I have a very strange gag reaction to some things and I’m pretty positive that will do it. I’d end up spewing it everywhere in a bad way.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            To me the Neti Pot feels like learning to swim. I’m able to relax enough not to panic and aspirate the liquid, but my sinuses also sometimes swell up so nearly closed that the liquid can’t actually pass through.

            I like a little Afrin spray to clear that up, but never more than a couple of sprays a week. The rebound effect they warn of is real.

            1. saro*

              I’ve tried all the sprays and the neti pot (and most of the allergy medicines) but what worked for me was a daily hot shower and a facial/sinus massage with oil. I figured out the massage while doing the oil cleansing method. I highly recommend it to everyone!

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            Yeah, I have issues with nasal sprays in general. It’s just really hard for me to overcome the extreme aversion I have to spraying anything up my nose. I’ve used the saline spray in the past when I’ve felt like I was in the early stages of a sinus infection, and it’s always seemed to have helped clear out my sinuses to help ward off the infection after a few days of usage, but it really is a last resort for me so I feel your pain. I have definitely had the gag reflex from it as well.

            I wish I hated it less because ever since I moved to the other side of the country several years ago, I have had horrible allergies, and allergy medications only seem to be a slight help. I pretty end up taking real Sudafed year round so that I can breathe at all and not end up with horrendous migraines. Not a fan.

    3. KJR*

      I get frequent sinus headaches, and I swear by Advil Cold & Sinus. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

      1. the gold digger*

        I am glad that works for you. I finally went to my doctor about my headaches – a change in barometric pressure is a trigger for me and I thought they were sinus headaches – and he told me that nope, it is all migraine. I argued with him, because to me, migraine is have to take to the bed in a dark room headache, not my sinuses are killing me headache.

        Then he gave me an RX for imtitrex and I decided he could call my headaches whatever he wanted as long as he kept giving me the drug that would finally get rid of them.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          I’ve read that most people who suffer from “sinus headaches” actually have migraines. It was definitely true in my case (although I know people who get really severe migraines, and my headaches aren’t bad in comparison).

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            Developing allergies in the past year has changed my migraine pain’s location and now I have trouble distinguishing between those & sinus headaches until I’m throwing up. Not cool, allergies, not cool!

          2. brightstar*

            I’ll get sinus headaches that then turn into migraines. I can definitely tell a difference but sometimes they are indistinguishable.

            I find drinking lots of water and taking a hot shower with a washcloth over my face and breathing in the steam helps.

          3. Melissa*

            That was partially true in my case. I actually get both sinus headaches and migraines, but before I got diagnosed with migraine I couldn’t tell the difference.

        2. Chinook*

          “a change in barometric pressure is a trigger for me and I thought they were sinus headaches ”

          around here they aare called “chinook headaches” and have been proven to be a medical reality. Some people get killer migraines, others, like me, get wicked ear aches (I understand fully why small children tug on their ear when they have them. I do the same thing in hopes that they would pop). Sympathetic weather forecasters often give people a heads up in the newscasts if a wicked barometric change is about to come in.

          1. Chinook*

            I should add – there is no cure for these headaches though they can be tempered with painkillers or sniffing peppermint.

        3. OleanderTea*

          I was diagnosed with migraines when I went to my doctor and demanded to know why Tylenol Sinus wasn’t helping my sinus headaches at all! My forehead still hurt like the dickens! (This was before Aleve was available over the counter).

          A few years later, I had a CT of my sinuses done. It turns out that I don’t have any sinuses in my forehead at all. It seems it’s pretty common for people to be born missing one or more sinuses. So now we really know they aren’t sinus headaches!

        4. A.*

          I get this too! I always joke I can “feel” when it’s about to rain. Pressure will slowly build in my sinuses letting me know it’s about to rain in an hour or so. It’d be cool if it weren’t so darn aggravating.

      2. Witty Nickname*

        That stuff is a lifesaver – the real stuff that I have to show my ID for and get from behind the pharmacy counter (at least in my state. In my mom’s state and the states around her, she has to have a doctor write a prescription for it!). It’s the ONLY thing that works for my sinus headaches.

  9. Interviewer*

    Have you considered that you might allergic to your office? Seriously – mold, dust, scents, etc. – the combination can really trigger people.

    Just last month I went through a ragweed allergy reaction – congestion settled in my chest and wouldn’t go away for weeks. I have the most polite office neighbor in the world but I know that was annoying to hear all of that going on next door. Two weeks of nose blowing and two more of just coughing. Argh. Poor man. I apologized every day. I worked from home for a few of the worst days.

    My sister swears by essential oils. My best friend swears by a neti pot. There are lots of different options out there, and I hope you find one that works for you.

    1. the_scientist*

      I am an allergy and sinus problem sufferer who swears by my neti pot. I was skeptical at first (honestly I was like “what is this hippy voodoo BS?”) but it has worked wonders for my allergy problems. I used to get frequent sinus infections and haven’t had one since starting the neti pot so you’ll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands!

      More to the point; OP- I have endless sympathy and hope you find relief soon! If your boss is a reasonable person you should be able to work something out that doesn’t entail you spending all day in the bathroom. Perhaps explaining that this is an allergy issue (i.e. not contagious) and liberal, conspicuous use of hand sanitizer will help.

    2. the gold digger*

      allergic to your office

      This can happen! I always had a runny nose at my old job. I had to remember to take my handkerchief to meetings. But as soon as I was home, it was not a problem and now, in my new job, it is not a problem.

      1. Ezri*

        I have bizarrely-triggered allergies, and I can vouch for different buildings triggering these things in different ways (though it sounds like OP knows the source of her sinus problems, it is also possible that something in her office is aggravating them).

    3. K.*

      I was allergic to an old office! They did a major renovation which involved tearing up carpeting and moving walls and repainting and the mold and dust and materials they kicked up were MAJOR triggers for me. I was “sick” basically during the whole 3-4 months of the project and for a few more weeks afterward. So brutal.

      (Also I am one of those people who sneezes in clusters — a minimum of three, sometimes as many as twelve — which makes everyone stop and look and say “helpful” things like “are you done yet?” uggggggh)

  10. Episkey*

    I’ve also had ongoing sinus issues — I’ve gone to an ENT, but he said they don’t consider it “serious” unless you have 6+ sinus infections per year, and I was getting around 4. I still felt like 4 was way too many, though!

    Anyway, have you tried a neti pot? It’s one of the few things that I really feel helps. I also like Vick’s Vaporub, but obviously that smells pretty potent and co-workers might be irritated by that smell too. You definitely have my sympathy.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      The 6+ threshold is horrifying. I get about one sinus infection per year, and that already seems like too much.

      1. Nina*

        Same. I can’t imagine how bad it must be to get several infections a year, when one is enough to take me out for the count.

        1. Ezri*

          I already had one this year, the thought of doing that three more times (let alone five) is just terrifying.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        My guess is that’s when they start talking about the roto-rooter. (Note to self: call ENT about roto-rooter.)

      2. Episkey*

        Yes, it’s that “balloon” surgery they will consider you a candidate for. I don’t know what it’s really called, forgive my ignorance!

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I had the balloons! Mine was called a sinuplasty. It changed my life, but I’ve still got enough issues that I may have to go back and get really properly scraped out.

          1. OleanderTea*

            I had the scraping out and my septum straightened. I need to have it again, but…*shudder*.

            It wasn’t painful, really, but the care at home while healing was seriously icky.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              That’s what I need–my septum is “interestingly deviated” = curved like a longbow.

              I’m not eager, except I believe one is unconscious for that procedure? For the balloons I had to be awake the whole time, on nothing stronger than Valium, and I guess when the doc said “okay I’m just looking now, I’m not going to do anything yet” and then inflated the balloon anyway I should have known better than to believe him (see also every medical professional ever who has used the phrase “slight pinch” when stabbing you with a five-gauge needle), but I was still surprised when he did it and it hurt. And you can’t flinch away from pain that’s caused when someone is literally blowing balloons up in your face. Sigh.

              So the idea of going under to have my sinuses fixed has a certain appeal.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              It really did help. The balloon sinuplasty didn’t, in my case, touch the septum; it dealt with the higher-up (frontal?) sinuses, which were persistently infected because the opening leading to them, in the bridge of my nose, was so narrow that any irritation at all, even the slightest swelling, and the little buggers couldn’t drain. Anaerobic bacteria party ensues. What they do with the balloons is thread them up there and inflate them and this (sorry, brace yourself) breaks some tiny tiny bones and widens the opening. The bones reset in their new location within a couple of days; I wasn’t allowed to blow my nose for a week, and since I suddenly had all kinds of drainage I’d never had before, I can’t tell you how I wanted to. (I cheated on about day 3 by exhaling a little more firmly than usual, in the shower.) As soon as the procedure was done, it felt like it feels when you get over a cold in winter, and the air hitting the back of your nose is so cold it hurts a little bit because you’re not used to it. Two days later, I went from 95-degree extra-humid outside to a super-air-conditioned store and then back out again, a sequence that would previously have had my sinuses collapsing with confusion, and breathed clearly the whole time. I turned to Uncle Vixen and said “oh my god, is this what it always feels like for everyone else?!”

              It really has been life-changing. Get a new ENT and ask about balloons. If you’re in the DC area I’ll recommend mine.

              1. Scarlett*

                I had my deviated septum fixed surgically, except the doctor messed something up and left two large perforations through my septum as if i was a coke snorter or something. Imagine a pipe with holes in it – that is how my nose works now. :( BUT i do swear by the saline rinses and netti pots and steam and stuff!

    2. Artemesia*

      Just be sure you are using boiled water in the neti pot; municipal water has been known to harbor germs that generally don’t kill when drunk but do when introduced into the brain via net pot. A couple of people in Louisiana died from this a few years ago from using tap water in their neti pot.

      1. Formica Dinette*

        Distilled water works too, for those of us whose laziness extends to boiling water but not to carrying a jug of water home from the store.

      2. Anonsie*

        Interestingly, one of the large medical professional associations (I can’t remember which one off the top of my head) came out recently saying that the odds of this were so small that they didn’t think it was necessary to recommend boiled water only. Which sounds nuts, but compliance with sinus rinsing is really low– when you introduce the hassle of having to boil water and wait for it to cool daily, what you get are a lot of people who just won’t be bothered to do it at all. So they’re weighing the number of people who won’t get any benefit because they won’t do it versus the tiny chance that you’ll get some kind of amoeba in your brain, which is rather different than how an individual patient is going to weigh their own risk.

        I still boil my water, though. I have an electric kettle so I just have a routine now of filling it & turning it on right away when I get home, so by the time I actually want to use it (before bed) it’s already cooled. My mom can’t be bothered, so she just buys giant bottles of distilled water and uses that.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I just do kettle to stovetop for five minutes and then let it cool–once you’ve boiled it it’s not like you were going to use it right away anyway.

          But that’s an interesting point about the unintended consequences of the boiling mandate. I always love unintended consequences.

          1. Anonsie*

            The consequences and risk assessments for providers are completely different than the way individuals weigh their own risk, and it causes some weird controversies and distrust by the general public for health care organizations. It’s like the mammogram and pap smear debates or, a little more current, Ebola infection risk. The advice given is through the lens of you being one of millions of people all taking the same action, whereas you weigh your own risk in terms of only yourself. So when you hear that type of direction given (“you probably won’t get a brain amoeba, so don’t bother”) it sounds really crazy (“I’d rather boil my water than risk it!”) and for a lot of people that makes them suspicious of those organizations overall, or perhaps less trusting of their expertise in the future. It’s a tricky thing.

        2. Traveler*

          It depends where you live too. Regions where amoebas tend to live (the South, Louisiana in particular as someone above mentioned) in larger numbers, and are then inundated by things like hurricanes that foul up the water supply are at higher risk than people who live in areas without those factors.

    3. Anonsie*

      That’s so lame, the 6+ line. That’s not a hard and fast rule– you might just try seeing a different ENT. Generally, if you’re having issues that are altering your quality of life and aren’t remedied by medical therapy (saline rinses, steroid sprays, and decongestants used daily for 3ish months) you’re a candidate for surgery.

      FWIW though, more and more studies are showing that a lot of people (around half of those studied) can get similar results to surgery just by rinsing their sinuses daily. It can take 1-3 months to see clear results, though, so it can take some time and effort to really find out.

  11. Rebecca*

    I think how the sneezing and nose blowing are accomplished are important. If you’re sneezing very loudly, like one particular person in my office does, and then following up with nose blowing that sounds like an angry Canada goose preparing for an attack, then work on that. If you’re quietly sneezing and gently blowing your nose, people can tune that out, or put in ear buds and block the sounds.

    Either which way, maybe your manager could move you to the empty office for the time being, and you could shut the door. Perhaps that would work?

    1. Smilingswan*

      Exactly. It seems like that empty office would be perfect for her to move into until she has a handle on her symptoms.

  12. Anon For This One*

    Have you considered other health issues rather than directly allergies? I’ve had allergies for the past 5 years off and on, but since I’m allergic to cats and I have them, it’s definitely more “on” than off of late. Semi-recently, it got SOO much worse. The pressure headaches were killing me. My eyes felt like they were going to pop out. My ears were constantly hurting. I was always blowing my nose or sniffing. I took my allergy meds, did a nightly sinus rinse, and took the occasional decongestant when things got too bad.

    I went to my doctor… turns out my blood pressure was THROUGH THE ROOF! I hadn’t been sleeping well lately, I absolutely hate my job, and I’ll admit my eating habits had slipped. As soon as I took the hypertension medicine (for immediate relief), I realized it wasn’t my allergies all along. Which makes sense, because even when I went on vacation (aka, no cats) I still had the sniffles, etc. So now I’m working on managing that, and I feel so much better. I’m still a sinus-problem kind of person, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was.

  13. Transformer*

    I feel you OP. You mentioned allergies. I live in an area known for grass seed production. I had the same issues with congestion and annoying the hell out of my co-workers, not to mention family! After I developed allergies as an adult, I began to dread the spring and summer. Due to pollen content, I could only sleep between the hours of midnight and 5am. My eyes would swell shut anytime I was remotely close (within a couple miles) of someone cutting grass outside. I was popping Benadryl, Allegra, and Zyrtec multiple times a day to no avail. I carried Kleenex wherever I went. I even went to urgent care and they put me on very strong steroids which helped but I didn’t want to do long term. I finally found a good allergy/immunologist and did the whole allergy shot regime (they inject you with what you are allergic too) and it completely changed my life. I have been on the shot regime for 5 years (I’m just about to transition off the regimen) and I haven’t had any allergy symptoms in 4 years or felt the need to take allergy medications. I function normally and finally get the sleep I need. There is hope and I think you are on the right track with the allergist.

    1. Alter_ego*

      I did about three years of allergy shots in middle school, and then another three in college. That stuff is magic. It’s such a hassle, and you get over your fear of needles quick, but I’d go through it again and again to get the results I’ve had. I used to wake up unable to open my eyes because they were producing so much mucous that they’d seal shut while I slept, and even once I washed them out, they’d be slits because of how swollen they were. I’d sneeze and wheeze constantly, and God help me on the days they were mowing the lawn outside one of my classrooms.
      Now? I think I took Zyrtec maybe three times total this year. I don’t even have the pollen count tracker on my phone any more. It’s seriously life changing.
      Now they just need to develop something similar for my many food allergies.

  14. Jamie*

    As mentioned above there are ways to make sure you’re keeping the noise to a minimum, but it’s still not going to be silent. I know blowing one’s nose quietly is a skill one can master, but to hear some people honk into a tissue you’s think you were at a water reclamation facility. I’m not trying to imply that you’re louder than normal, but that it’s worth making sure you’re being as unobtrusive as possible about this.

    And if you haven’t done so please make sure everyone knows it’s an allergy thing and you’re not contagious – I am always grateful to know that.

    I think it would be weird to jump up and run out with every sneeze – that would be more distracting to me as a bystander and sometimes sneezes don’t give you a lot of lead time. The nose blowing though – unless you’re silent about it that’s an activity to be done in private or the bathroom. Oddly enough this is one of those things that doesn’t bother me, unless people are being deliberately gross about it, but for many people this is on par with other bodily functions which shall not be named – they are unmentionable for a reason.

    (Thinking about it I would rather sit next to you blowing your nose all day even if you were trying to set records for noise in each event than having to listen to one person eat a pretzel. I’m very specific in what makes me want to flee the building.)

    That said – you have an unused office. Why can’t that be your office at least until this is resolved?

    1. Clover*

      As long as the nose in question is being blown into a tissue, nose blowing doesn’t bother me. The honking/snorting blow that some people do does make me jump though, especially on quiet commuter trains. That said I do go to the bathroom to blow my nose at work. This time of year when the weather is changing I tend to get a slightly runny nose, particularly when I come into the warm office building after a cold walk from the train station.

      Sneezing is another matter, I don’t think I ever know I’m going to sneeze with enough warning to make it to the bathroom first! I do get irritated at people that make no effort to cover their mouth/nose when they sneeze, though – do you not understand how far you are spraying your moist grossness?!

      1. Windchime*

        A quiet, gentle nose blowing into a tissue doesn’t bother me (as others have said, I’d much rather hear that than listen to sniffing all day long). But if your nose is producing copious amounts of snot and that’s evident in the nose blowing, then I can see how that would get on peoples’ nerves after awhile.

        Quiet = OK. Loud, snot-filled blowing = please go someplace else.

  15. the gold digger*

    I would much rather hear someone blowing her nose than listen to someone sniff all day long. I have handed tissues to strangers – just blow! Quit sniffing the snot back in! It doesn’t work and it sounds disgusting!

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      Uncle Vixen used to sniffle. I begged him to stop and swore it was the only thing I would ever ask him to change for me. He is very cooperative now about blowing his nose instead of sniffling – thank god, or I may not have been able to marry him. (And thank god x2 when we have kids, because I will need him to join me modeling correct behavior so they learn as soon as possible before I have to kill or banish them.)

      1. louise*

        I’ve told my husband that nose noises are pretty much his only flaw. He’s getting much better, but I still have to hand him the tissues periodically. I think he really doesn’t notice when he’s making the noises. If he hadn’t been open to change and to my pointing the noises out, though, we’d never have lasted. :)

    2. Enid*

      Hear, hear. I hate hate hate that noise. And the best part is that the people doing it usually have to keep doing it every ten seconds.

    3. LBK*

      I will admit to being a serial sniffler. I’ve culled the majority of my annoying office habits but that is one I’ve never been able to kill. Sorry!!!

      1. BeeBee*

        I’m a serial sniffer too. Blowing doesn’t always help! And if I eat hot food or soup, it’s even worse.

    4. Anonsie*

      Gaaaah I sniff all day because I’m stuffed up! There’s nothing to blow out! And people get all cranky with me and tell me to just blow my nose, but that’s not the problem! Grrraaaghhhghfdsblt sorry.

  16. Lurker*

    Oh my gosh, we have two scream-sneezers on my floor and they make me jump every time. It’s literally a shriek/yell from the back of the throat when they sneeze. Also I have a constant sniffler/cougher nearby too. Maybe this person has a sinus thing that’s not an illness because I was beginning to wonder how it was possible to be sick all the time.

  17. LizNYC*

    OP, I can sympathize! Last May was the WORST for my allergies. I hope they let you use an open office until you get some relief (allergies are horrible — at least with a cold, you have a timeline for getting better!) and feel less like the office’s Typhoid Mary (even though you aren’t contagious. Some people just don’t get it).

  18. Clover*

    There’s a woman in our office who has some sort of chronic (what I assume is lung) condition that means she is coughing in an “oh my God is that person dying?!” type way pretty much constantly. It sounds so painful and I really do feel for her, but it is also very loud and very distracting, particularly if you are trying to talk on the phone. She works in a smallish side office (about 10 desks in there) and the problem is compounded by the fact the acoustics are terrible and everything echoes.

    Thankfully, I don’t work in that side office very often but every time I do I feel for both the coughing woman and the coworkers who sit in there everyday.

  19. mortorph*

    I must not be bothered by sneezing or blowing noses noises as much as other people are. I just figure it is part of being human, and as we are all humans these noises and bodily functions are something we all deal with from time to time. Stay home when you are contagious, but otherwise just deal.

  20. Kyrielle*

    “In the meantime, at work, my manager asked me to blow my nose and sneeze in the bathroom or an unused office.”

    I would take Alison’s advice, and in particular, if there’s a truly (not temporarily) unused office that you can dash to in order to sneeze or blow your nose, perhaps your manager could arrange for you to be assigned to it until the doctors figure out getting your sinus and allergy issues under control? That way, you can easily sneeze or blow your nose in an office, without having to dash around every couple minutes.

  21. KTM*

    I completely sympathize with allergies and feel bad for people who have them so severe, like my cube mate. However, he has a habit of not realizing how much noise he constantly makes when his allergies are on overdrive. Blowing noses and sniffing is one thing, but he makes a lot of phlegmy/throat-clearing noises, etc that are pretty gross and are super distracting. I think because he’s dealt with his allergies for so long he does these things automatically.

    I’m not saying you are necessarily doing this :) but it might be worth examining the noises you are making from the other side or asking someone you are friends with and be open to an honest answer. It seems crazy to have to constantly leave your cube though

  22. Diet Coke Addict*

    Oh my god, for a second I thought my coworker wrote in. She told my boss I was sneezing too much, and my boss asked if I could stop sneezing so often. The only reason I’ve been sneezing is my shedding, falling-apart ceiling in my cube.

    I apologize on behalf of everyone sneezing “too much.” Especially for those of us sneezing in uncared-for, dusty office environments! I swear as soon as I leave the building I’m a totally normal person. It’s only within these walls I sneeze ten times a day.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      What the heck? I’m so confused that a) someone complained to a manager that someone else was “sneezing too much” and b) the manager then asked that person if they could sneeze less. I mean, it’s not like shouting or something else you’re doing on purpose.

      Sorry you’re dealing with that! Hopefully you’ll be able to relocate (or your ceiling will be fixed) soon.

      1. Jeanne*

        This doesn’t surprise me at all. Some people go to the manager about anything and some managers will do anything to satisfy complainers.

  23. Eclipse*

    There is a man in my office who sounds like he’s trying to be a rival to a trumpet in an orchestra when he blows his nose. When it’s only a few times a day I can live with it as a necessary evil from being in an open plan office. When he had a cold a few months ago it was at the longest 5 minutes between trumpet noises. I even used the stopwatch on my phone a few times to check I wasn’t imagining things. I heard a few other people complaining about it to him and he would quieten down for a few hours then the volume would gradually increase again. I finally emailed his manager asking him to have a word with him about keeping down as it was making me keep losing the thread of what I was doing. His manager did have a word and so far he has kept the volume down.

  24. soitgoes*

    I agree with the others that the OP should ask to temporarily move her whole work station into the empty office. In addition to bugging people and feeling gross overall, I get self-conscious about blowing my nose and making gross noises within earshot of my coworkers. I’d soooooo much rather do that in private.

  25. Jen*

    You should take a look at if your office is contributing to your symptoms… In my last office I would regularly get sick when the heating system cranked on in the cold weather. Bronchitis and then a cough that would never go away. Finally, one of the maintenance guys cleaned out the vent that blew above my desk and brought me an air purifier for the office. My symptoms were drastically reduced when I didn’t have dust and filthy air blowing on me all day.

    1. Jeanne*

      This is so true. Does your desk get dusty pretty quickly? Faster than things get dusty at home? Did they recently turn on the heat? It could so easily be the building and not a sinus condition. Your ENT can’t find a cure to a crappy HVAC.

  26. Jo*

    I had a coworker who had a terrible chronic cough for several months. We shared a workspace closely (with each other and with our boss). It was loud, and of course it drove me nuts sometimes, but I never said a word to her and I don’t think our boss did either. She had let us know it was nothing contagious. I got past it by thinking every time: “However annoying this may be for me, it’s a LOT more painful for her, so I will keep my mouth shut and be thankful I can breathe easily.”

    OP, I’m sorry for your discomfort! I hope your boss will become more understanding.

  27. Melissa*

    Funnily/ironically enough, despite (or perhaps because of?) being a public health scientist I am far less concerned about germs than most.

    First OP, not sure if that decongestant was prescribed by your ENT or allergist but high doses of decongestants for long periods of time can actually exacerbate the problem. Prolonged use of decongestants can actually dry out your nasal passages and make it harder for your body to rid itself of mucous build-up, besides making your nose more irritated and uncomfortable and producing more sneezing. So you may want to decrease the decongestant use and try using just allergy medication for a while to see if that helps! (If you are using a decongestant with phenylephrine in it – which is what most OTC drugs replaced pseudo with, once the pseudo had to go behind the counter – you should know that the effectiveness of phenylephrine has been disputed.) You may already know this but in general – and especially if you are using decongestant frequently – stay really hydrated to keep your mucous membranes wet and able to flush themselves.

    I also just want to pass on that that washing your hands with regular (not anti-microbial) soap is more effective at combating germs than hand sanitizer and better in the long run (according to the CDC). If you do get hand sanitizer to keep at your desk, make sure that you get an alcohol-based one like Purell and not an antibacterial/anti-microbial one with like triclosan or something in it. The antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers contribute to resistant bacteria.

    1. Nina*

      Word to the triclosan thing. Bath and Body Works sells numerous hand sanitizers, but they use triclosan instead of alcohol. Which sucks because I really love those scents!

      Oddly enough, I think their antibacterial soaps use some other ingredient. I know antibacterial soaps are pointless, I just thought it was weird.

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