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How To Diagnose Occupational Asthma & What Is The Best Medicine For It?

Occupational asthma is a lung disorder triggered by substances found in the workplace. It is characterized by the inflammation of the windpipes of the lung. These triggering agents may be wood dust, grain dust, fungi, chemicals, etc. It is represented by symptoms such as wheezing, tightness of chest, shortness of the breath, and cough.

These symptoms get better when the affected person is away from work. It can be diagnosed by lung function test, chest X-ray, blood tests, peak expiratory flow rate, and skin prick test.

How To Diagnose Occupational Asthma?

Occupational asthma is a type of asthma that appears due to exposure to a specific substance in the workplace. These substances can cause an allergic reaction, irritant reaction, or reaction leading to the build-up of materials in the body resulting in asthma.(1)

The physician initiates the process of diagnosis by performing a thorough history and physical examination of the patient when occupational asthma is suspected. He inquiries about essential aspects of the condition, such as the type, duration, timing, aggravating, and ameliorating factors of the symptoms. He also evaluates the characteristics of the workplace, such as any inhalational exposure. Most of the information is available on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on their website.(3)

The diagnostic tests required for occupational asthma are-

Pulmonary function test- It is also known as spirometry. It is a test performed to measure the flow of air in and out of the lungs. This test is performed for 10 to 15 minutes, in which the patient is asked to take deep breaths and exhale into a machine called a spirometer with force. If specific vital measurements are lower than normal levels of a certain age and sex, it is confirmed that the windpipes are blocked by inflammation, diagnosing asthma. This test may involve the use of an inhaled medicine called a bronchodilator to relax or dilate the airways and observe the response of the lungs towards the medication.(2) Alternatively, the test may involve the administration of a medicine to find out the excessively responsive, or twitchy reactions of the windpipes. (bronchoprovocation test).(3)

Peak Expiratory Flow Meter- this test may be recommended to measure airflow during exhalation that can be used both at home and at work. Typically, results are recorded every day for a few weeks to check the difference in airflow at work and away from work.(3)

Skin Prick Tests- in this test, the agent suspected to cause the symptoms of occupational asthma is introduced below the first layer of skin with a small needle. It may help to find out the agent that triggers an inflammatory reaction in the body. However, skin tests cannot detect most agents that cause occupational asthma.(3)

Other tests involve blood tests, X-rays, or other tests to rule out other causes of asthma, excluding occupational asthma.(2)

What Is The Best Medicine For Occupational Asthma?

The best medicine for occupational asthma is the removal from the exposure or permanently leaving the workplace. Most patients with occupational asthma will get worse with time if the exposure continues, so it becomes essential to avoid the trigger. It means changing the job or changing the particular duty at the workplace.(3)

The treatment procedure of Occupational asthma is similar to regular asthma. The patient is prescribed medicines called bronchodilators to inhale that help to open (dilate) the windpipes along with inhaled anti-inflammatory medications (glucocorticoids). However, apart from successful treatment, the most critical intervention is to avoid any further exposure. Respiratory masks are not helpful as they cannot prevent the symptoms of occupational asthma.(3)


Occupational asthma can be diagnosed with a pulmonary function test or spirometry, peak expiratory flow meter, and skin prick test. Avoidance of exposure to the specific substance by changing jobs or a particular shift is the best treatment of this asthma.


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 10, 2020

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