Safety Tips Disease Wellness Workplace exposure

Understanding occupational asthma

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Occupational asthma is a respiratory disease in which on-the-job exposure to certain substances causes the airways of a person’s lungs to swell and narrow.

Workers who may be affected include metal workers, agricultural workers, laboratory workers, health care workers, and detergent manufacturers, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Although the exact number of workers who have occupational asthma is unknown, up to 15 percent of asthma cases in the United States may be job-related, the academy states.

Many substances found in workplaces can trigger asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. These substances include wood and grain dust, chemicals, fungi, and animal dander. A person having an asthma attack may feel chest tightness or shortness of breath, or may wheeze or cough.

“Often, your symptoms are worse during the days or nights you work, improve when you have time off, and start again when you go back to work,” AAAAI notes. However, some workers may not show any symptoms until 12 or more hours after exposure to an allergen.


Workers who suspect they have occupational asthma should make an appointment with their health care provider.

Anyone diagnosed with occupational asthma should work with his or her employer to avoid exposure to the substance(s) that trigger asthma. Measures include:

  • Moving to a different jobsite location that has reduced exposure to the asthma-triggering substance(s)
  • Wearing respiratory protection
  • Changing jobs

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