Workplace Substances Known to Trigger Asthma Attacks

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified over 300 known or suspected substances in the workplace that can cause or worsen asthma.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are constantly cleaning surfaces to keep employees safe.

Disinfectants can trigger an asthma attack. People with asthma should try to stay away when cleaners or disinfectants are being used and right after their use.

Infections linked to influenza (flu), colds, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can trigger an asthma attack. Sinus infections, allergies, breathing in some chemicals, and acid reflux can also trigger attacks.

Symptoms can include:

  • Episodes of wheezing;
  • Chest tightness;
  • Shortness of breath; and
  • Coughing

Asthma can be controlled by taking medicine and avoiding triggers that can cause asthma symptoms. Avoiding triggers can prevent asthma from getting worse.

Occupational asthma occurs when someone who never had asthma develops it because he or she is exposed to something at work.

This can happen if you develop an allergy to something at work such as mold or if you are exposed to irritants such as wood dust or chemicals at work over and over at lower levels or all at once at higher levels.

An asthma attack may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. The attack happens in your body’s airways, which are the paths that carry air to your lungs.

As the air moves through your lungs, the airways become smaller, like the branches of a tree are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs swell and the airways shrink.

Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucous that your body makes clogs up the airways.

You can control your asthma by knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack, staying away from things that cause an attack, and following your doctor’s advice.

When you control your asthma:

  • you won’t have symptoms such as wheezing or coughing;
  • you’ll sleep better;
  • you won’t miss work or school;
  • you can take part in all physical activities; and
  • you won’t have to go to the hospital.