Occupational asthma is a disease of the lung in which substances in the workplace cause irritation thus swelling and narrow the respiratory tract of the lungs. This causes shortness of breath, cough, and chest tightness as the main symptoms.(1)
How Do You Stop Occupational Asthma From Spreading?
Most people with occupational asthma are able to control their condition if they work with a healthcare provider and carefully follow their treatment regimen. People who do not receive medical care or do not have an adequate treatment plan are likely to experience a worsening of their asthma and deterioration in their normal functioning.(2)
Several medications are used for long-term control of persistent asthma. They help keep the airways open and reduce inflammation in the lungs that cause asthma attacks. These drugs include long-acting beta-antagonists and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Long-Acting Beta-Antagonists: This class of drugs is chemically related to adrenaline, a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. Inhaled long-acting beta-agonists ensure that the airways remain open for 12 hours or more. They loosen the muscles of the respiratory tract, expand the respiratory tract and reduce the resistance to exhaled airflow, which makes breathing easier.
They can also help reduce inflammation but have no effect on the underlying cause of the occupational asthma attack. Side effects are fast heartbeats and wobbly feeling.
Anti-inflammatory Drugs minimize the inflammation that underlies an acute occupational asthma attack. Generally, these drugs do not help during an attack, but you should continue to take them during the course of your asthma treatment to reduce symptoms of an attack.
Inhaled corticosteroids are the main class of drugs in this group. The inhaled steroids work locally by concentrating their effects directly in the airways, with very few side effects outside the lungs.
Oral Steroids are other options to control asthma and classified as another type of anti-inflammatory drug.
Bronchodilators: They quickly open the airways, which are closed by swelling, bronchospasm, and mucus. These are taken after an occupational asthma attack has already started. These do not replace anti-inflammatory drugs. Do not stop taking your anti-inflammatory medication during an asthma attack.
Short-Acting Beta2 Agonists are the most commonly used rescue medication or bronchodilators. Adrenaline, a type of hormone released from your Adrenaline glands has chemical similarity with this drug class. Airways are opened quickly after the inhalation of Beta2 agonists (typically in minutes). They loosen the muscles of the respiratory tract, thus expanding the respiratory tract and reducing the resistance to exhaled airflow. So, breathing becomes easier. They are not anti-inflammatory and has no effect on the underlying cause of the occupational asthma attack. Side effects are fast heartbeats and wobbly feeling.
Anticholinergics are another class of drugs that are useful as rescue medications for occupational asthma attacks. Inhaled anticholinergics open the airways, similar to the effects of beta2 agonists. Inhaled anticholinergics take slightly longer than beta2 agonists to work, but last longer than beta2 agonists.
An anticholinergic is often used in conjunction with a beta2 agonist drug to achieve a greater effect than either drug can achieve on its own.
Combination Therapy, which includes a long-acting beta2 agonist and an inhaled corticosteroid, available in a single inhaler, is currently widely used for occupational asthma.(2)(3)
Occupational Asthma Follow-Up
- Occupational asthma is a long-term condition that can be treated. Your active involvement in the treatment of this disease is vital.
- Take your medication as prescribed.
- Contact your doctor regularly according to the recommended schedule.
- By following these steps, you can minimize the frequency and severity of your asthma attacks.
- Your doctor will check how you are doing during your follow-up visits.
- He or she may ask you about the frequency and severity of the seizures, the use of life-saving equipment and measurements of the peak flow.
- Lung function tests are done to determine how your lungs respond to your treatment.
- This is a good time to talk about the side effects of medication or problems with your treatment.(4)
Occupational Asthma Prevention
- Treatment for asthma in the workplace focuses on preventing or minimizing asthma attacks. The main strategy is to reduce or stop exposure to the triggers of occupational asthma.
- Make sure to have a clean workplace (take the matter to your boss at work).
- You or your doctor should be able to measure air quality in the workplace.
- Your employer should provide protective equipment such as masks or respirators to avoid exposure to the trigger.
- Careless use or spillage of respiratory tract irritants, inadequate ventilation, and incorrect protective equipment contribute to the occurrence of asthma in the workplace. These problems can be solved.
- If these measures do not relieve your symptoms, talk to your employer about retraining for another position that will not affect your trigger.(4)(5)
- Tarlo SM, Lemiere C. Occupational asthma. New England Journal of Medicine. 2014;370(7):640-649.
- Quirce S, Sastre J. Occupational asthma: clinical phenotypes, biomarkers, and management. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine. 2019;25(1):59-63.
- Bernstein JA. Occupational asthma. Allergy and Asthma: Springer; 2016:253-270.
- de Groene GJ, Pal TM, Beach J, et al. Workplace interventions for treatment of occupational asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011(5).
- Brown NJ. Occupational Asthma or Work-Related Exacerbation of Asthma. 2019.
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