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Occupational asthma (work-related asthma)

When coming into contact with a substance or trigger at work causes asthma symptoms, this is called occupational asthma. These triggers in the workplace include chemicals, cleaning products, dust and working with animals.

Specific triggers known to worsen asthma symptoms in some people include:

  • Isocyanates used in spray painting, adhesives and surface coating.
  • Dust from flour and grain.
  • Wood dust,
  • Colophony used in soldering, glues and floor cleaners.
  • Dust from latex rubber, including gloves used by healthcare workers.

How do I know if my asthma could be work related?

Generally, if your asthma symptoms are worse on days that you work, improve when you are at home for any length of time (weekends, holidays), and then recur when you return to work, occupational asthma should be considered.

What are the signs and symptoms of occupational asthma?

Symptoms of occupational asthma include general symptoms of an asthma attack, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and breathing difficulty. Eye irritation, nasal congestion and/or runny nose may also be present.

If you think you have occupational asthma, ask your doctor about a referral to an asthma specialist. The specialist will perform a detailed examination, including taking your past medical history and reviewing current breathing problems. After any necessary asthma tests, the specialist will develop an asthma treatment plan that will include asthma medications, such as bronchodilators, asthma inhalers, and inhaled steroids to control your asthma. It will also be important to avoid any asthma triggers at work.

How do I prevent asthma attacks if I have occupational asthma?

Preventing asthma symptoms by reducing exposure to the triggers at work is the most important step you can take to reduce the occurrence of occupational asthma. It's also important to use appropriate asthma medication to prevent symptoms. Even with the right asthma medications, continued exposure at work can make asthma more difficult to control.

The Health and Safety Executive has published regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) that determine acceptable levels of exposure to substances that may cause asthma. Employers are required to follow these rules.

However, if in a particular job, exposure to asthma triggers is unavoidable, most employers are willing to assist the employee to find a more suitable workplace. Once it has been determined what causes your asthma, discuss with your doctor how best to approach your employer and what precautions need to be taken.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 24, 2016

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