Occupational asthma is a type of asthma that develops due to things you're exposed to at work, like allergens or irritants. Here are four things you need to know about it.
What are the signs of occupational asthma?
The signs of occupational asthma are similar to the signs of other forms of asthma. If you only experience asthma symptoms when you're at work and feel better when you're at home, you may be suffering from occupational asthma. Here are some symptoms to watch out for.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath;
- Tightness in your chest.
Who gets occupational asthma?
Occupational asthma happens to people who breathe in allergens or irritants while they're at work. This can happen in a wide range of industries. Higher occupational asthma rates have been reported in industries as diverse as utilities, transport, wood and paper manufacturing, social assistance, and health care. What these industries have in common is that they expose workers to airborne allergens and irritants like wood dust, mold, latex, and industrial cleaning products.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act makes it your workplace's responsibility to tell you about the allergens and irritants you may encounter during your workday. If your job exposes you to allergens or irritants, you should be provided with personal protective equipment like a respirator. Respirators can't prevent every case of occupational asthma, but they are still helpful.
How common is occupational asthma?
Occupational asthma is fairly common. It's the most common work-related respiratory disease in developed countries like the United States and Canada. According to estimates by the American Thoracic Society, about 15% of all asthma is work-related.
Can occupational asthma be treated?
Once you've developed occupational asthma, it's important to try to avoid the allergen or irritant that triggered it; you can do this by wearing a respirator or finding a new job.
Unfortunately, avoiding irritants isn't a foolproof treatment, since even small exposures to something you're sensitive to can trigger asthma symptoms. To keep yourself safe, you'll also need to take long-term asthma control medications like inhaled corticosteroids or long-acting beta agonists; these medications are taken every day to prevent asthma attacks.
Your allergist may also give you a prescription for a quick-relief medication. These medications are used during an asthma attack and can start to work within minutes.
Occupational asthma is a big problem for people in some fields. If you wheeze and cough at work but feel fine at home, talk to an allergist to find out if your job is making you sick. For more information, contact Allergy Asthma & Immunology Associates or a similar organization.