Occupational asthma is asthma caused by inhaling chemical fumes, gases, dust, or other substances at work. Occupational asthma can be caused by exposure to a substance to which you are sensitive – causing an allergic or immunological reaction – or by an irritating toxic substance.
Like other types of asthma, occupational asthma can cause chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. People with allergies or a family history of allergies are more likely to develop asthma in the workplace.
Avoiding professional triggers is an important part of management. Otherwise, treating asthma in the workplace is similar to treating other types of asthma and usually involves taking medication to reduce symptoms. If you already have asthma, treatment can sometimes keep things from getting worse in the workplace.
If the diagnosis is not made correctly, and you are not protected or cannot avoid exposure, occupational asthma can cause permanent lung damage, disability, or death.
What happens during an asthma attack?
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The symptoms of occupational asthma are similar to those caused by other types of asthma. Signs and symptoms can include:
Wheezing, sometimes only at night
shortness of breath
Other possible accompanying signs and symptoms could include:
Eye irritation and lacrimation
More than 250 substances in the workplace have been identified as possible causes of occupational asthma. These substances include:
Animal substances such as proteins in dander, hair, scales, fur, saliva, and body waste.
Chemicals for the production of paints, varnishes, adhesives, laminates and soldering resins. Other examples include the chemicals, packaging materials, mattresses, and foam pads used to make insulation.
Enzymes used in laundry detergents and flour conditioners.
Metals, especially platinum sulphate, chromium and nickel.
Plant-based substances, including proteins, found in natural rubber latex, flour, cereals, cotton, flax, hemp, rye, wheat, and papain – a digestive enzyme extracted from papaya.
Respiratory irritants such as chlorine gas, sulfur dioxide and smoke
The intensity of your exposure increases the risk of developing occupational asthma. In addition, there is an increased risk if:
You already have allergies or asthma. While it can increase your risk, many people with allergies or asthma do jobs exposing them to lung irritants and never showing symptoms.
Allergies or asthma are common in your family. Your parents may pass on a genetic predisposition to asthma.
You are working on known asthma triggers. Certain substances are known to be lung irritants and asthma triggers.
They smoke. Smoking increases your risk of developing asthma when exposed to certain types of irritants.
The best way to prevent work-related asthma is to have workplaces control workers’ exposure to chemicals and other substances that can be sensitizers or irritants. These measures may include the introduction of better control methods to prevent exposure, the use of less harmful substances and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers.
While you can rely on medication to relieve symptoms and control inflammation related to asthma in the workplace, there are several things you can do yourself to maintain your overall health and reduce your risk of seizures:
If you smoke, quit. In addition to all of its other health benefits, being smoke free can help prevent or reduce symptoms of occupational asthma.
Get the flu shot. It can help prevent disease.
Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other drugs that can make symptoms worse.
Lose weight. In obese people, losing weight can help improve symptoms and improve lung function.