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. Work-related asthma can develop over ANY period of time (days to years). It may also occur with changes in work exposures, jobs, or processes.

Symptoms tend to get better on weekends, vacations, or other times when you are away from work. However, in some cases, symptoms actually do not improve until there is an extended time away from the exposure or trigger.

Diagnosing Work-Related Asthma

Your doctor can diagnose your work-related asthma.  You need to tell your doctor about work exposures and possible asthma triggers, including your job, tasks, and the materials you use.  You might also want to write down when and where your symptoms.  This can help you and your physician figure out an patterns. Your doctor will probably ask you questions about your symptoms and will conduct a physical examination. The doctor might also order one or more of the following tests:

  • breathing tests
  • allergy tests such as skin or blood tests

If your doctor is concerned about something other than asthma, he/she might order other tests such as x-rays or imaging tests.

Symptoms

The symptoms of work-related asthma are the same as symptoms for non-work-related asthma. They include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath

Asthma symptoms can come and go, and some workers might not have all symptoms. Workers can get work-related asthma even when using personal protective equipment, such as respirators or face masks.  In some cases, these breathing issues start at work and can continue even after you leave work and the exposure has stopped.

Treating Work-Related Asthma

The most important step of treating asthma is stopping or reducing exposure to the asthma triggers. You should work with your doctor to develop a personal asthma control plan. Asthma is often treated with two general types of medicine:

  • Quick-relief rescue inhalers (e.g., albuterol, levalbuterol) open the airways. People use these medicines to treat asthma attacks or flare-ups.
  • Long-term control medicines reduce inflammation in the airways. People use these medicines to help keep asthma symptoms from occurring. When these medicines are working well, quick relief medicine is not used as much.