Occupational Asthma – Risk and Prevention

Source: rawpixel - 123RF

Merriam-Webster defines asthma as “a chronic lung disease that is marked by recurring episodes of airway obstruction (as from bronchospasm) manifested by labored breathing, accompanied especially by wheezing and coughing and by a sense of constriction in the chest, and that is triggered by hyperreactivity to various stimuli (such as allergens or rapid change in air temperature).”

Simply put, occupational asthma is asthma caused by inhalation of chemical fumes, gases, dust, pollutants, or other substances in a work environment. If you have asthma, or it runs in your family, you have an increased risk of developing occupational asthma, especially if you work around lung irritants. Smoking increases this risk.

If you work in a high-risk profession, your employer must advise you on occupational hazards, and provide proper training and protective equipment to ensure your health and safety around those hazards.

The Mayo Clinic lists several high-risk jobs for occupational asthma, such as adhesive handlers, veterinarians, millers, textile workers, metal workers, food production workers, carpenters, hairdressers, and spray painters. You should be familiar with the work hazards at your job and receive the training and equipment to protect yourself before you start.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over “250 workplace substances [that] have been identified as possible causes of occupational asthma” and include “chemicals, animal proteins, cereal grains, cobalt/nickel, milk/egg powder, wood dust, dyes, latex, and plastics.”

Other examples of occupational asthma producing substances are sawdust, smoke fumes from hot asphalt, jackhammer or drywall dust, and fumes from paint thinners or chemicals. Any of these may trigger an asthma attack or, over a more extended period of time, result in chronic asthma or permanent lung damage.

It is important to see a doctor if you have tightness in your chest, trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath. If these symptoms get worse, it is necessary to seek immediate medical treatment.

Also, if you smoke, quitting smoking is recommended to lessen the severity of occupational asthma.