What is the definition of Occupational Asthma?

Occupational asthma is a lung disorder in which substances found in the workplace cause the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow. This leads to attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

What are the alternative names for Occupational Asthma?

Asthma - occupational exposure; Irritant-induced reactive airways disease

What are the causes for Occupational Asthma?

Asthma is caused by inflammation (swelling) in the airways of the lungs. When an asthma attack occurs, the lining of the air passages swells and the muscles surrounding the airways become tight. This makes the airways narrower and reduces the amount of air that can pass through.

In people who have sensitive airways, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in substances called triggers.

Many substances in the workplace can trigger asthma symptoms, leading to occupational asthma. The most common triggers are wood dust, grain dust, animal dander, fungi, or chemicals.

The following workers are at higher risk:

  • Bakers
  • Detergent manufacturers
  • Drug manufacturers
  • Farmers
  • Grain elevator workers
  • Laboratory workers (especially those working with laboratory animals)
  • Metal workers
  • Millers
  • Plastics workers
  • Woodworkers

What are the symptoms for Occupational Asthma?

Symptoms are usually due to narrowing of the airways and tightening spasms of the muscles lining the airways. This reduces the amount of air that can pass through, which can lead to wheezing sounds.

Symptoms usually occur shortly after you are exposed to the substance. They often improve or go away when you leave work. Some people may not have symptoms until 12 or more hours after being exposed to the trigger.

Symptoms usually get worse toward the end of the work week and may go away on weekends or vacations.

Symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tight feeling in the chest
  • Wheezing

What are the current treatments for Occupational Asthma?

Avoiding exposure to the substance that is causing your asthma is the best treatment.

Measures may include:

  • Changing jobs (though this may be difficult to do)
    Changing jobs (though this may be difficult to do)
  • Moving to a different location at the work site where there is less exposure to the substance. This may help, but over time, even a very small amount of the substance can trigger an asthma attack.
    Moving to a different location at the work site where there is less exposure to the substance. This may help, but over time, even a very small amount of the substance can trigger an asthma attack.
  • Using a respiratory device to protect or reduce your exposure may help.
    Using a respiratory device to protect or reduce your exposure may help.

Asthma medicines may help manage your symptoms.

Your provider may prescribe:

  • Asthma quick-relief medicines, called bronchodilators, to help relax the muscles of your airways
    Asthma quick-relief medicines, called bronchodilators, to help relax the muscles of your airways
  • Asthma control medicines that are taken every day to prevent symptoms
    Asthma control medicines that are taken every day to prevent symptoms

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Occupational Asthma?

Occupational asthma may keep getting worse if you continue to be exposed to the substance that is causing the problem, even if medicines improve your symptoms. You may need to change jobs.

Sometimes, symptoms may continue, even when the substance is removed.

In general, the outcome for people with occupational asthma is good. However, symptoms may continue for years after you are no longer exposed in the workplace.

When should I contact a medical professional for Occupational Asthma?

Call your provider if you have symptoms of asthma.

Talk to your provider about getting the flu and pneumonia vaccines.

If you've been diagnosed with asthma, call your provider right away if you develop a cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other signs of a lung infection, especially if you think you have the flu. Since your lungs are already damaged, it's very important to have the infection treated right away. This will prevent breathing problems from becoming severe, as well as further damage to your lungs.

Spirometry
Respiratory

REFERENCES

Lemiere C, Martin JG. Occupational respiratory allergies. In: Rich RR, Fleisher TA, Shearer WT, Schroeder HW, Frew AJ, Weyand CM, eds. Clinical Immunology: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.

Lemiere C, Vandenplas O. Asthma in the workplace. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 72.

Lugogo N, Que LG, Gilstrap DL, Kraft M. Asthma: clinical diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 42.

  • Condition: Compartment Syndrome
  • Journal: Undersea & hyperbaric medicine : journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc
  • Treatment Used: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
In this case study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of treating compartment syndrome caused by isocyanate toxicity with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • Condition: Occupational Asthma and Rhinitis due to Wheat Flour
  • Journal: La Medicina del lavoro
  • Treatment Used: Sublingual Specific Immunotherapy
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This study investigated the use of a sublingual specific immunotherapy to treat patients with occupational asthma and rhinitis due to working with wheat flour.
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Intervention Type: Device
  • Participants: 80
  • Start Date: March 17, 2020
Pilot Study of Metabolomics in Occupational Asthma
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Other
  • Participants: 700
  • Start Date: February 21, 2020
Work Should Not Hurt You: Reduction of Hazardous Exposures in Small Businesses Through a Community Health Worker Intervention