10 Risky Jobs for Your Lungs
These jobs may have lung risks for some workers.
Some factory workers risk getting asthma or making their existing asthma worse. Work exacerbated asthma -- asthma not caused by work but made worse by work -- affects as many as 25% of adult asthmatics, Harber says.
Factory workers can be exposed to everything from inhaled metals in foundries to silica or fine sand, which can lead to silicosis, a disease that scars the lung, or increased risk of lung cancer.
A lung disorder called "popcorn lung," or bronchiolitis obliterans, has been seen in plant workers exposed to some of the flavoring chemicals used to make microwave popcorn. Again, respirators and proper ventilation are key for those workers. (No risk of "popcorn lung" has been seen in people who eat that popcorn.)
Workers who demolish old buildings or do remodeling can be exposed to asbestos used as insulation around pipes or in floor tiles.
Even minimal exposure to its microscopic fibers has been linked to a variety of problems. One is mesothelioma, a form of cancer, Von Essen says.
Exposure also seems to increase the risk of small cell lung cancer and can lead to asbestosis, or scarring of the lung. Removal should be left to trained and licensed crews.
"Know where the asbestos is," Von Essen says. "Follow all the rules and don't take chances."
Working with crops and animals can lead to several disorders. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare but serious problem caused by repeated exposures to mold-contaminated grain or hay. The lung's air sacs become inflamed and may develop scar tissue.
Grain in metal bins can get moldy. Breathing dust from this grain can lead to fevers, chills, and a flu-like illness called "organic dust toxic syndrome." Farmers also are more likely to report a cough and chest tightness.
"We think about 30% of farmers who grow crops in this way have had that at some point," Von Essen says. Workers in hog and chicken barns sometimes get an asthma-like syndrome.
"Dust and ammonia levels together seem to be risk factors," Von Essen says. Keep grain from getting damp, ensure adequate ventilation, and wear a respirator.
8. Auto Body Spray Painting.
People who work in auto body shops are often exposed to chemicals known as isocyanates. They're a significant cause of occupational asthma.
"It's frequently a career-ending disease where they need to leave their profession," Harber says.
Using quality respirators that are appropriate for your task can lessen the risk. It also helps to enclose the area being sprayed and to have a ventilated exhaust system. Better yet, replace hazardous materials with safer ones.
People battling blazes are exposed not only to the fire but also to other materials, including burning plastics and chemicals. Firefighters can significantly reduce their risk of lung disease and other problems by using a "self-contained breathing apparatus" (SCBAs). These devices should also be used during "mop up" or the clean-up period.
"Many of the chemicals are still in the air," Harber says. Ventilation also is critical.