Can you work with lupus and build a successful career? With the right adjustments and accommodations, maintaining employment is possible while managing lupus. How Work Environments Can Trigger Lupus Symptoms One of the most difficult aspects of living and working with lupus is the unpredictability of the disease and the symptoms that come along with it. People with the illness typically notice periods where the disease and its symptoms are not active, and seasons when symptoms worsen, known as flares. Over time, people with lupus can recognize triggers that bring on periods when they feel worse. While lupus flare triggers vary for each individual, some of the most common triggers include UV ray exposure, stress, infections, injury, and exhaustion. For people working with lupus, it is important to recognize potential lupus flare triggers at their place of employment. Whether it is daily exposure to UV light or a stressful work environment, these potential triggers at work can have a negative impact on one’s disease activity. One way to combat possible triggers while working with lupus is to speak to your supervisor about receiving a reasonable accommodation, a request protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The following accommodations can help you avoid lupus flare triggers at work, continue performing your job at an optimal level, and potentially help you keep disease activity at bay. Reducing Photosensitivity-Related Lupus Flares With up to 70% of people with lupus being sensitive to UV light, according to advocacy group Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus, this common lupus flare trigger should be a top consideration when working with lupus. Photosensitivity can occur from either sunlight or artificial light, such as fluorescents and halogens. People with lupus who experience photosensitivity could develop a rash on their skin, most commonly on their cheeks and bridge of nose (known as a butterfly rash). Other reactions may include a lupus flare being triggered, or dealing with fevers, joint pain, or inflammation in certain organs after exposure. If you work under artificial UV ray-producing lights, or have a desk located in a sunny location, speak to your employer about an accommodation. Reasonable accommodations must be provided by your employer under the ADA for people with illness or disability. Explain to your supervisor that moving your desk to a different location, or changing out fluorescent and halogen lighting to LEDs, can help you continue to perform your job responsibilities at satisfactory levels and can help decrease lupus triggers. Preventing Additional Lupus Fatigue As many as 80% of people with lupus deal with fatigue on a regular basis, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Fatigue can range from mild to severe, and in some cases fatigue can force someone with lupus to stop working. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help manage this lupus flare trigger in the workplace, depending on the type of work you do. When speaking to you supervisor about accommodations and finding ways to prevent fatigue, consider working in shorter shifts, asking for longer breaks, being able to work remotely, or creating a flexible schedule through remote and in-person work. During seasons when disease activity is high, fatigue tends to be worse; this would be an ideal scenario for an employer to allow a fully remote working option. When you are in the office, you can also prevent additional fatigue by arranging for meals to be made or picked up in advance, having your clothes ready for work as the workweek begins, or building in a longer lunch break that allows for a short nap so you are more alert to finish your day. Managing Stress on the Job Similar to photosensitivity and fatigue, stress is also a common lupus flare trigger. Because different types of stress—both physical and emotional—can have a negative effect on lupus, strategies to manage stress will depend on your job type. For example, a teacher might need an assistant who can handle lower-priority, yet stress-inducing tasks. A project manager may need to limit the number of projects he or she is working on at one time. People working with lupus who spend long periods on their feet might need to ask for a chair or stool in order to take occasional breaks throughout the day. Managing stress is crucial when it comes to warding off lupus flares. Prepare for the possibility of a stress-induced flare by learning your company’s policy regarding sick and personal days beforehand. Familiarize yourself with reasonable adjustments that may be available to you through the ADA, such as extra time off, and research the Family and Medical Leave Act, which can offer you up to 12 weeks off (unpaid) for medical emergencies. Finally, consider taking a day or two off when your body sends flare warning signs—such as unusually severe fatigue, fever, rash, or increased pain—rather than waiting until you are in a full lupus flare. Avoiding Germs When Working with Lupus While no one likes catching a cold or flu from sick coworkers, avoiding germs is crucial for people with lupus. Because someone living and working with lupus has a compromised immune system, he or she has a higher susceptibility to catching viruses. Coming down with a cold or the flu can mean a prolonged recovery period, challenging treatment plans, and a potential setback in terms of overall progress with managing the disease. If you are working with lupus and regularly come into contact with germs, you can take steps to better protect yourself. For starters, wipe down your computer area, desk and chair often with an anti-bacterial wipe. Be on guard in communal areas, such as kitchens, elevators and restrooms. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching any door handles, faucets, or elevator buttons. You might also want to consider keeping a tissue or paper towel handy to use when touching these objects. In addition, avoid touching your face, and keep hand sanitizer or personal wipes at your workspace. Consider keeping a set of masks at your desk for times when a coworker is sneezing or coughing. Depending on your job type and relationship with your supervisor, you may want to take advantage of remote working opportunities during active flu seasons. Identifying potential lupus flare triggers in your workplace is the first step to creating a safer work environment. Work with your employer on reasonable accommodations that will allow you to continue performing your job responsibilities while decreasing your potential for a lupus flare.