Occupational asthma is the most common form of work-related lung
disease in many countries. When a person develops asthma as an adult,
occupational exposure is a likely cause.
asthma develops when a person is exposed to a
particular inhaled substance in the workplace. The term refers to new cases of
asthma. About 16 out of 100 adults who have asthma have it because of exposures at work.1 Workplace exposure to substances that cause airway irritation or
inflammation can also make asthma worse in people who already have the condition.
There are some things that may cause occupational asthma and certain
professions in which people might be exposed to them. These include:
- Flour dust (bakers, millers).
dust (carpenters, joiners, sawmill workers).
- Plastics (plastics
workers, motor vehicle repairers, foundry workers).
- Solder fumes
- Animal dander
or urine (animal handlers in research laboratories, scientists, food
- Chemicals used in the health care industry to
sterilize equipment (health care workers).
People who have occupational asthma usually have symptoms during the
workweek, such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. These may develop
hours after leaving the workplace. Symptoms generally improve during weekends
and vacations. If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor know about them as soon as possible. The earlier you let your doctor know, the better the chances are to find out the cause of your symptoms.
The diagnosis of occupational asthma requires detailed documentation
of exposure to irritants or
allergens in the workplace and evidence that these
substances are causing symptoms. In a test called specific inhalation
challenge, you are exposed to a small amount of a possible workplace irritant
or allergen. Lung function is then measured to find out whether the substance
is the cause of symptoms.
Treatment of occupational asthma consists of:
- Trying to reduce your exposure to possible
triggers. You may try to improve the ventilation in your work area. Or you
might wear a type of breathing mask called a respirator.
medicines to treat your symptoms. Medicines used to treat occupational
asthma are similar to those used to treat other types of asthma. These include
corticosteroids to reduce
inflammation and quick-relief medicines (such as
bronchodilators) to help you breathe during an asthma
You may need to change your job if your symptoms do not improve even
when you avoid possible triggers and take medicines. Talk with your doctor or asthma specialist before changing your job.
Asthma in Teens and Adults
Tarlo SM, Lemiere C (2014). Occupational asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(7): 640–649. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1301758. Accessed March 4, 2014.