Occupational asthma is a lung disorder in which matter found in the workplace causes the airways of the lungs to narrow and swell. This leads to shortness of breath, attacks of wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. One in 10 cases of asthma in adults (equally childhood asthma symptoms returning and new asthma symptoms) has its origins in work-related factors.
There are two types of occupational asthma: Allergic occupational asthma and irritant-induced occupational asthma. The former is the most common type and occurs when people are allergic to substances in their workplace. The latter occurs when one breathes in a chemical at workplace, and it irritates the airways, causing asthma symptoms.
If you answer yes to the following questions, you might be suffering from occupational asthma:
- Have your asthma symptoms started as an adult, or have your childhood asthma symptoms returned since you started working?
- Do your symptoms improve on the days you’re not at work (when you’re on holiday, for instance)?
- Do your symptoms get worse after work, or disturb your sleep after work?
- Do you have other symptoms, such as rhinitis (sneezing, itchy, runny nose) or conjunctivitis (itchy, red, and inflamed eyes)?
Your doctor will suggest you run a few tests where the specialist might carry out a number of blood or skin tests and may also ask you to take measurements of your peak flow both at work and when you’re away from your workplace.
Signs & Symptoms
The early warning signs for occupational asthma include sneezing, itching or a runny nose. If you notice any of these symptoms and they go on for longer than a few weeks, it could be a timely indication that you’re developing an allergy. Coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing are typical symptoms of developing an allergy.
If you have work aggravated asthma or allergic occupational asthma, the material that caused your asthma symptoms will always be an activator for your asthma symptoms. For example, if dust is your trigger, it’s sensible to avoid working as a carpenter.
The only way to stop having occupational asthma symptoms is to stay away or reduce contact completely from whatever is triggering your asthma. For some, their symptoms stop as soon as they discontinue contact, while for others symptoms may not go away completely or it can take a little longer or – especially if they have had asthma for a longer time and have shown more serious symptoms.
You can also try to get any allergens in your workplace replaced or removed with a safe alternative. Your employer too can help reduce the risk by isolating you from the process linked to the triggers or installing extractor fans. You could also consider use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), which will stop you from inhaling the respiratory sensitizers. If you are already aware of your condition, make sure to inform the manager when changing jobs, so they will have sufficient time to implement changes that can help you.