Occupational Asthma: Is Your Job Putting You at Risk?

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., ACCESS Media Relations Specialist​
June 13, 2016

​Do you suffer from asthma, but only when you are on the clock? Do your symptoms seem to go away when you leave your job site? You may be suffering from occupational asthma. Like regular asthma, this disorder causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow because of outside triggers. However, occupational asthma occurs when substances found in the workplace cause the attack to happen. These triggers can lead to wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and shortness of breath.

According to the United States Department of Labor, an estimated 11 million workers are exposed to at least one of 250 known agents known to cause occupational asthma in the workplace. Occupational factors are associated with up to 15 percent of disabling asthma cases in the United States each year. The symptoms of those with occupational asthma often get worse as the work week goes on. They usually go away when you leave work or over the weekend. 

The most common triggers of occupational asthma include: wood dust, grain and flour dust, animal dander, fungus, chemicals, cleaning products, latex gloves, certain molds and insects.

Occupations at high risk of occupational asthma include:

  • Laboratory workers (especially those working with laboratory animals)
  • Health care workers
  • Metal workers
  • Plastics workers
  • Bakers
  • Hairdressers
  • Textile workers
  • Detergent manufacturers
  • Drug manufacturers
  • Welders
  • Grain elevator workers
  • Woodworkers
  • Farmers
  • Carpet makers
  • Seafood processors

Treatment

If you are suffering from occupational asthma, changing jobs is often the best option. If this is not a possibility, moving to a different location at work or changing your job duties may help lessen symptoms. The most important thing is to limit exposure to the allergen triggering the attacks. You can also try using a respiratory device or asthma medicines to help manage the symptoms. However, the longer you are exposed to the trigger, the worse your symptoms will get over time. If exposure is prolonged, symptoms may continue even when you are away from the triggering substance.

To learn more about how you can control and prevent occupational asthma, click here to schedule an appointment at one of our 36 conveniently located community health centers in the Chicagoland area.