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All About Occupational Asthma

If you have been following us for quite some time now, you probably have some knowledge about asthma and other respiratory diseases. And as you may already know, asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. The airways become narrow and inflamed. Symptoms can include chest tightness, episodes of wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Now let’s talk about work-related or occupational asthma. What is it, how does it affect your health, and how to treat and/or prevent it?

Occupational asthma is asthma that is brought on or aggravated by exposure to chemicals at work. Asthma can be caused by these drugs in one of three ways:

  • allergic reactivity (like people with allergies who develop allergic asthma)
  • an irritating response (like a person that reacts to smoking with asthma)
  • An asthma attack is caused by a reaction in which naturally occurring substances such as histamines build up in the lungs, resulting in an asthma attack.

Examples of work-related asthma:

  • By inhaling powdered proteins from the gloves’ inner lining, health care workers can develop an allergy to latex gloves.
  • Chemical workers who are exposed to compounds like ammonia and acquire asthma symptoms as a result of irritating effects rather than an allergic reaction.

Occupational asthma can be triggered by a variety of compounds used in many sectors, including:

  • Adhesives, shellac, and lacquer, plastics, epoxy resins, carpeting, foam, and rubber, insulation, dyes (textile workers), and detergent enzymes are examples of chemicals.
  • Animal hair and/or dander proteins
  • Papain, grains, and green coffee beans (an extract of papaya that may trigger a latex allergy)
  • Dust from cotton, flax, and hemp is ubiquitous in the textile business.
  • Soldering fumes, platinum, chromium, nickel sulfate, and other metals.

Who is at risk for occupational asthma?

Work-related asthma can develop in anyone who spends a lot of time around common irritants. However, some occupations are more dangerous than others due to frequent contact. These occupations include:

  • Bakers who inhale flour and grain dust for an extended length of time may get “baker’s lung.”
  • Farmers, grain elevator employees, and millers are all examples of people who work in the agricultural industry.
  • Workers in the healthcare industry who inhale the powder from latex gloves or other substances.
  • Workers who work with animals in laboratories.
  • Workers in the pharmaceutical industry are exposed to medication particles in the air.
  • Work in maintenance or cleaning that exposes you to chemicals from cleaning products.
  • Metalworkers, plastics workers, and woodworkers are all examples of people who work with metals, plastics, and wood.

What are the signs and symptoms of occupational asthma?

Occupational asthma shares many of the same symptoms as other types of asthma. Typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Tightness, discomfort, or pressure in the chest.
  • Coughing (especially at night).
  • Breathing problems.
  • Wheezing.
  • When you take a break from work, the symptoms of occupational asthma usually improve. If your symptoms improve when you go on vacation or take a weekend off, it’s possible that they’re caused by workplace irritants.

Is there a link between occupational asthma and asthma attacks?

Occupational asthma can, in fact, trigger an attack. Airways become irritated and enlarged as irritants are breathed in. Three things happen during an asthma attack:

  • Bronchospasm occurs when the muscles surrounding your airways contract, narrowing them. Constricted airways prevent air from flowing freely.
  • Inflammation causes the linings of the airways to expand, restricting the amount of air that can enter and exit the lungs.
  • Production of mucus: Your body produces thick mucus that clogs your airways.

How is work-related asthma diagnosed?

Occupational asthma can be diagnosed by an allergy and immunology expert or a pulmonologist. This specialist will inquire about your medical history and ask you a series of questions. They’ll want to know where you’ve worked and what you’ve done. This information can help your healthcare professional figure out what’s causing your asthma episodes.

It’s a good idea to keep track of your symptoms before your appointment. Then you and your doctor can look at your work schedule and see when you get symptoms. Knowing when your symptoms are at their worst will aid your doctor in determining whether you have work-related asthma.

You’ll also get a full physical examination. Other disorders that could be causing your symptoms, such as chronic sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or obstructive sleep apnea, can be ruled out with this evaluation.

If you feel you have occupational asthma, it’s critical to seek treatment as soon as possible. Continued exposure to irritants may permanently harm your lungs.

What tests are used by doctors to diagnose occupational asthma?

Specific tests are used by an allergy and immunology specialist to determine how well your lungs function. These tests demonstrate to your doctor how irritants impact your lungs. The following tests may be performed:

  • Antibodies to specific allergens are measured in blood testing.
  • A peak flow meter monitors how quickly air leaves your lungs when you exhale.
  • Skin tests are used to determine whether or not a person is allergic to a certain material.
  • Spirometry is a lung function test that determines how well air passes through your lungs.

What can my place of business do to assist?

You and your company can work together to develop solutions to avoid irritants. Reassignment to a different location is one of these changes. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

  • Employee safety practices should be developed by all firms whose employees work with common irritants.
  • Proper ventilation: To eliminate irritants and circulate fresh air, employers should install appropriate ventilation.
  • Alternatives to hazardous materials: If at all possible, businesses should seek out lower-risk alternatives.
  • Employees can be protected through workplace training that covers prevention techniques, policies, and reporting issues.

Is there a treatment for work-related asthma?

Occupational asthma, like “normal” asthma, has no known cure. You may, however, keep it under control by avoiding triggers and properly administering medications. Both of these actions have the potential to reduce the number and severity of attacks.

What can I do to lessen my chances of having occupational asthma?

Avoiding breathing in common irritants is the most important thing you can do to avoid having work-related asthma. Personal protection equipment (PPE) and respirators can help. When working with irritants, even with protection, it’s critical to have sufficient ventilation.

If protection isn’t working, talk to your boss about a new assignment where you won’t have to deal with irritants.

How can I tell if my asthma is work-related?

Occupational asthma should be explored if your asthma symptoms are worse on days when you work, better while you are at home for any period of time (weekends, holidays), and then relapse when you return to work.

One of the best ways to help control your condition is to have asthma management so you can better control your symptoms and the triggers. It is also necessary to incorporate a healthy and natural lung supplement that is meant to alleviate symptoms of respiratory issues like work-related asthma.

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You may also try these helpful and effective asthma treatments:

The Most Effectual Asthma Medical Treatments

5 Useful Ways to Take Control of Your Asthma

These Are the Best Treatments to Control An Asthma Cough