Do you have asthma symptoms only when you are in the workplace, or do you have asthma symptoms only when you are performing a specific task? Asthma caused by exposure to a specific occupational substance under specific working conditions is called “occupational asthma”.(1)
How Common Is Occupational Asthma Or Is It A Rare Disease?
Occupational asthma is not a rare disease. It is one of the most common occupational lung diseases in the United States. It affects about 15% of adults with asthma, although estimates may vary. It may also cause chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath and wheezing.
The good thing is that this is usually a reversible condition, meaning that symptoms often disappear when the patients avoid the substances causing asthma. But, there is a possibility of permanent damage in case of prolonged exposure. Some of the common irritants that can cause occupational asthma are dust, fumes, gases, and vapors.
After avoiding further risk exposure, most patients experience their asthma have improved. It may take months to even years to show these improvements after avoiding exposure to irritants. But in most cases, patients with occupational asthma get cured completely or have their asthma disappears totally.
The symptoms usually return when the person gets exposed to the irritants again in the future. So, if you are diagnosed with any specific occupational asthma, then avoid the triggers all through your life to remain healthy. You may have to quit your profession or change your job profile for this reason. Never take asthma lightly as the condition can become severe very quickly when exposed to the irritants that may require emergency medical attention.(4)
Diagnosis, Treatment, And Countermeasures For Occupational Asthma
To find out if asthma you have developed is occupational asthma, it is helpful to answer a doctor’s question in detail. Let’s tell the following things in detail. Tell your doctor:
- The process from the start of your work to the onset of symptoms
- Whether the exposure to the causative agent results in the first appearance of asthma symptoms within 24 hours?
- Does the symptom improve on holidays?
- Whether the symptoms of allergic rhinitis or allergic conjunctivitis worsened at work
- In the treatment of occupational asthma, drug treatment is performed in the same way as in the treatment of general asthma.
If you continue to be exposed to the causative agent, the symptoms will worsen and your respiratory function will decrease. Therefore, when occupational asthma is diagnosed, the causative substance must be completely eliminated in principle.
However, it is very difficult to quit your job. Ideally, if you can gain an understanding of the workplace, offer to relocate, etc., but in reality, continue asthma drug treatment while avoiding the causative substances (masking, ventilation, etc.) as much as possible. If the symptoms continue to worsen, you may need to consult with your doctor and choose a different profession.(5)
How Occupational Asthma Develops?
Occupational asthma is a reversible airway obstruction that develops after months to years of sensitization to allergens at work. Symptoms include dyspnea, wheezing, and coughing, and sometimes upper respiratory allergies.
Diagnosis is based on occupational history, including activities involved, allergens in the workplace, and assessing the temporal relationship between work and symptoms. Allergen skin tests and inhalation provocation tests may be performed in specialized facilities but are generally not required. Treatment is often prioritized on moving the patient away from the work environment and using anti-asthmatics as needed.(2)
Common Substances Causing Occupational Asthma
Substances that cause occupational asthma can be divided into irritants and sensitizers. Common irritants are smoke, chlorine, etc. Common sensitizers are substances that can cause allergic reactions. Furthermore, it is classified into high molecular weight substances and low molecular weight substances based on the difference in molecular weight.
- Occupational asthma is asthma caused by exposure to certain occupational substances.
- Interviews are most important for diagnosis. Tell your doctor in detail about your occupation and whether you have symptoms on holidays.
- When occupational asthma develops, the principle is to completely avoid the causative substance.(3)
- Mapp CE, Boschetto P, Maestrelli P, Fabbri LM. Occupational asthma. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine. 2005;172(3):280-305.
- Tarlo SM, Lemiere C. Occupational asthma. New England Journal of Medicine. 2014;370(7):640-649.
- Malo J-L, Chan-Yeung M. Agents causing occupational asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2009;123(3):545-550.
- Maestrelli P, Boschetto P, Fabbri LM, Mapp CE. Mechanisms of occupational asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2009;123(3):531-542.
- de Groene GJ, Pal TM, Beach J, et al. Workplace interventions for the treatment of occupational asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011(5).
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