Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Asthma Health Center

Font Size

Occupational Asthma - Topic Overview

Occupational asthma develops when a person is exposed to a particular inhaled substance in the workplace. The term refers to new cases of asthma. But workplace exposure to substances that cause airway irritation or inflammation can make asthma worse in people who already have the condition. About 10% of adult asthma is classified as occupational asthma.1

Occupational asthma is the most common form of work-related lung disease in many countries. When a person develops asthma as an adult, occupational exposure is a likely cause.

Recommended Related to Asthma

Winter Asthma

For many people, asthma attacks may happen more often in the winter.  "There are two challenges for people with asthma in the winter. One is that they spend more time inside. The other is that it’s cold outside," says H. James Wedner, MD, an asthma expert at Washington University in St. Louis. While you’re indoors, you breathe in asthma triggers such as mold, pet dander, dust mites, and even fires in the fireplace. When you venture out, you could have an asthma attack from inhaling the cold air...

Read the Winter Asthma article > >

There are some things that may cause occupational asthma and certain professions in which people might be exposed to them. These include:

  • Flour dust (bakers, millers).
  • Wood dust (carpenters, joiners, sawmill workers).
  • Plastics (plastics workers, motor vehicle repairers, foundry workers).
  • Solder fumes (electronics workers).
  • Animal dander or urine (animal handlers in research laboratories, scientists, food processors).
  • Chemicals used in the health care industry to sterilize equipment (health care workers).
  • Latex.

People who have occupational asthma usually have symptoms during the workweek, such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. These may develop hours after leaving the workplace. Symptoms generally improve during weekends and vacations.

The diagnosis of occupational asthma requires detailed documentation of exposure to irritants or allergens in the workplace and evidence that these substances are causing symptoms. In a test called specific inhalation challenge, you are exposed to a small amount of a possible workplace irritant or allergen. Lung function is then measured to find out whether the substance is the cause of symptoms.

Treatment of occupational asthma consists of:

  • Trying to reduce your exposure to possible triggers. You may try to improve the ventilation in your work area. Or you might wear a type of breathing mask called a respirator.
  • Taking medicines to treat your symptoms. Medicines used to treat occupational asthma are similar to those used to treat other types of asthma. These include inhaled corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and quick-relief medicines (such as bronchodilators) to help you breathe during an asthma attack.

You may need to change your job if your symptoms do not improve even when you avoid possible triggers and take medicines. Talk with your doctor or asthma specialist before changing your job.

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

Start Now

Today on WebMD

Distressed woman
Slideshow
Woman holding an asthma inhaler
Article
 
Get Personalized Asthma Advice
Health Check
asthma overview
Slideshow
 
Los Angeles skyline in smog
Slideshow
man in a field with allergies
Slideshow
 
Woman holding inhaler
VIDEO
Slideshow Allergy Myths and Facts
Slideshow
 
Man outdoors coughing
Article
Lung and bronchial tube graphic
Article
 
10 Worst Asthma Cities
Slideshow
runner
Article