Occupational Asthma Can Take the Fun Out of Work

  • People often think of asthma more in terms of kids and in conjunction with allergies. That's not surprising, because asthma is the most common chronic illness in children. Plus, the most common triggers for asthma symptoms are substances known as allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, dust and molds.


    But adults can also have asthma, and the underlying cause is not always allergic. Many times, it can be something in your work environment that triggers those annoying asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.


    In fact, according to the US Department of Labor's Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA, for short), "an estimated 11 million workers in a wide range of industries and occupations are exposed to at least one of the numerous agents known to be associated with occupational asthma. "

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    Occupational asthma represents about 11 percent of all asthma cases. Job-related triggers for asthma can include such agents as:

    • animal proteins
    • enzymes
    • flour
    • natural rubber latex
    • certain reactive chemicals
    • fumes
    • smoke

    Of course, when dust, animal dander, molds, or pollen are in your work environment, they can also trigger occupational asthma, just as they could in your home environment.


    Occupations most at risk for asthma are the following.

  • Plastics industry
  • Rubber industry
  • Chemical industry
  • Textile industry
  • Electronics industry
  • Painting
  • Printing
  • Dyeing
  • Metalworking
  • Welding
  • Oil refining
  • Cleaning
  • Baking and food processing
  • Farming
  • Gardening, landscaping, and horticulture
  • Working with animals
  • Laboratory work

    The good news is that once these work-related hazards are identified and recognized, you should be able to avoid them and thus prevent athma symptoms.


    So, if you notice you have asthma symptoms that are worse at work or only occur when you are at work, you might have occupational asthma. Try to notice when your symptoms occur—is it shortly after you perform certain tasks on the job or after you go to certain areas in the workplace? If so, that might provide you with some clues on which irritant is causing the symptoms.


    Be sure you contact your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you may have occupational asthma. Your doctor can do tests and interview you to determine the best course of action for you. In most cases, asthma can be completely controlled with the right treatment.


    If the work you do cannot be performed without putting you into regular contact with your triggers, you may have to consider changing jobs.



Published On: May 27, 2007