High Prevalence of Asthma Among Healthcare Workers

NIOSH’s Respiratory Health Division has revealed in a study that more than 2 million healthcare workers suffer from asthma.

To assess the industry- and occupation-specific prevalence of current asthma, asthma attacks, and asthma-related emergency department (ED) visits among working adults, the CDC analyzed 2011–2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data for participants aged ≥18 years who, at the time of the survey, were employed at some time during the 12 months preceding the interview.

During 2011–2016, 6.8% of adults (11 million) employed at any time in the past 12 months had current asthma; among those, 44.7% experienced an asthma attack, and 9.9% had an asthma-related ED visit in the previous year. Current asthma prevalence was highest among workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry (8.8%) and in healthcare support occupations (8.8%).

The increased prevalence of current asthma, asthma attacks, and asthma-related ED visits in certain industries and occupations might indicate increased risks for these health outcomes associated with workplace exposures.

Current asthma prevalence was highest among workers aged 18–24 years (8.5%), females (8.9%), non-Hispanic blacks (8.2%), those with higher than a high school education (7.2%), those categorized as “poor” (8.7%), those having health insurance (7.1%), and those living in the Northeast (7.6%).

Among persons with current asthma, the highest asthma attack prevalence was among workers in wood products manufacturing (57.3%), followed by the plastics and rubber products manufacturing (56.7%), and the highest prevalence of asthma-related ED visits was among workers in private households (22.9%). The highest numbers of asthma attacks (307,000) and asthma-related ED visits (75,000) were among persons working in ambulatory health care services.

Workplace conditions and exposures associated with asthma include:

  • Irritant chemicals,
  • Dusts;
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke;
  • Allergens and sensitizers;
  • Emotional stress;
  • Worksite temperature; and
  • Physical exertion.