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.
At 14, Alyssa Flanagan’s asthma symptoms all but disappeared.
Since the age of 4, she had been hospitalized a few times each year -- once
in the intensive care unit - when her colds turned into coughing, wheezy
pneumonias. Asthma loomed large in her life.
“The simplest explanation is that I’ve outgrown it, or for some reason,
there was an immune trigger that’s not present anymore,” says Flanagan, now a
30-year-old medical resident at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Flanagan says she’s...
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
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.
medicines to treat your symptoms. Medicines used to treat occupational
asthma are similar to those used to treat other types of asthma. These include
corticosteroids to reduce
inflammation and quick-relief medicines (such as
bronchodilators) to help you breathe during an asthma
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.