Job-Related Asthma

Could your workplace be making you sick? Work-related asthma is one of the most frequently reported occupational lung diseases. If you have asthma, exposures in the workplace can be a cause of asthma symptoms. And, for some people being exposed to certain chemicals, irritants or allergens can cause asthma to develop for the very first time.

A new study reveals only 15 percent of working adults with asthma discuss with their doctor how their jobs might affect their breathing, even though nearly half have asthma that is possibly work-related. The researchers also found doctors often don’t bring up the topic with their patients.

People may be reluctant to talk about work-related asthma because they’re worried about how it might affect their job and income, said the authors of the study published Feb. 3 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“A thorough occupational history is critical to first establishing a diagnosis of work-related asthma, and then putting measures in place to prevent further exposure, or to treat it,”  said lead author Dr. Jacek Mazurek, of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  “Unfortunately, many people may believe that nothing can be done, or may worry about losing their jobs, so are reluctant to address the topic with their doctor.”

The survey included more than 50,000 employed adults with asthma in 40 states and the District of Columbia. For 46 percent of workers with asthma, the condition appeared to be work-related, the researchers said.

What is Work-Related Asthma?

Work-related asthma is a lung disease caused or made worse by exposures to substances in the workplace. Common exposures include chemicals, dust, mold, animals, and plants. Exposure can occur from both inhalation (breathing) and skin contact. Asthma symptoms may start at work or within several hours after leaving work and may occur with no clear pattern. People who never had asthma can develop asthma due to workplace exposures. People who have had asthma for years may find that their condition worsens due to workplace exposures. Both of these situations are considered work-related asthma.

Once workplace-related asthma develops, continued exposure to job-related asthma triggers can lead to permanent lung problems, and the risk can increase the longer the exposure continues, according to the news release. Early testing is recommended, the study authors said.

Why You Should Care About Work‑Related Asthma

Work-related asthma may result in long-term lung damage, loss of work days, disability, or even death. The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment of work-related asthma can lead to a better health outcome.

Work-Related Asthma Quick Facts

  • Work-related asthma can develop over ANY period of time (days to years).
  • Work-related asthma may occur with changes in work exposures, jobs, or processes.
  • It is possible to develop work-related asthma even if your workplace has protective equipment, such as exhaust ventilation or respirators.
  • Work-related asthma can continue to cause symptoms even when the exposure stops.
  • Before working with isocyanates or any other asthma-causing substances, ask your employer for training, as required under OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard.

One in 12 U.S. adults has asthma, according to the American Lung Association.  Do you have asthma? Do you think your workplace is making you sick? Follow the steps in the Guide to Controlling Asthma at Work to learn how you can keep your asthma in control.