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Occupational asthma

Contents of this page:


Respiratory system
Respiratory system

Alternative Names    Return to top

Asthma - occupational exposure; Irritant-induced reactive airways disease

Definition    Return to top

Occupational asthma is a lung disorder in which various substances found in the workplace lead to breathing difficulties.

See also:

Causes    Return to top

Many substances in the workplace can cause occupational asthma. The most common triggers are wood dust, grain dust, animal dander, fungi, or other chemicals (especially diisocyanates).

Though the actual rate of occurrence of occupational asthma is unknown, it is suspected to cause 2-20% of all cases of asthma in industrialized nations.

The following workers are at higher risk:

Symptoms    Return to top

Symptoms are usually due to airways inflammation and spasms of the muscles lining the airways, which cause the muscles to narrow excessively.

They usually occur shortly after being exposed to the offending substance and often improve or disappear when you leave work. Some people may not have symptoms until 12 or more hours after exposure to the allergen.

Symptoms usually get worse toward the end of the work week and may (but not always) go away on weekends or vacations.

In general, symptoms include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. There may be a pattern of worsening symptoms associated with a specific workplace environment or substance.

Wheezing may be heard when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.

The following tests may be used to diagnose this condition:

Treatment    Return to top

The goal of treatment is to limit exposure to the asthma-causing substance and improve symptoms.

Treatment may include:

Other therapies for asthma may be added in more severe cases.

In some instances, symptoms may persist despite removal of the source of exposure.

Support Groups    Return to top

See: Asthma and allergy - support group

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

In general, the outcome for people with asthma is good. However, symptoms may persist for years after workplace exposure has been eliminated.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of asthma.

Prevention    Return to top

Asthma symptoms can be substantially reduced by avoiding known allergens and airway irritants.

Update Date: 10/15/2007

Updated by: Donald Accetta, MD, MPH, President, Allergy & Asthma Care, PC, Taunton, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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