Occupational asthma, also known as workplace asthma, is caused when someone encounters substances that act as lung irritants in the workplace. This type of asthma is the main cause of adult onset asthma in the U.S.; according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), up to 15% of asthma in the U.S. is job-related. Work-related asthma develops over time—from weeks, months or years—after exposure to chemicals and other harmful substances.
Two Studies on Occupational Asthma
Two separate studies, by the Imperial College London and the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), tracked adults in different occupations. The study by the Imperial College London followed 9,488 people born in Britain in 1958. Of these people, nine percent developed asthma by age 42; with one in six cases of adult onset asthma caused by substances encountered in the workplace. The University of Gothenburg study followed 13,000 people born between 1980 and 2000. Of these people, the incidence of asthma in men was 1.3 asthma cases per 1,000, and 2.4 cases per 1,000 women.
Occupations More Likely to Cause Asthma
The following occupations are more likely to cause adult onset asthma:
Cleaning and Housekeeping: the harsh chemicals found in cleaning supplies can cause asthma.
Health Care: those in health care (doctors, nurses, those who work in hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes) are often exposed to lung diseases (including tuberculosis and the flu--which may make the lungs more prone to asthma), as well as latex (found in gloves and other medical supplies).
Hair Stylists and Nail Beauticians : formaldehyde and other chemicals are found in hair coloring products, hair sprays, and nail care products.
Factory Workers : are exposed to many types of harsh chemicals that can cause permanent lung changes and lung diseases.
Construction Workers : are exposed to chemicals found in building materials. They are also exposed to asbestos found in older buildings (may be found in insulation and floor tiles).
Plumbers : who work with adhesives, foam insulation and may be exposed to asbestos used as an insulator around pipes in older buildings.
Farming: farmers and farm workers are exposed to harsh chemicals (used in fertilizers, insecticides and products used on animals), are exposed to grain dust, and animals (they develop reactions to animal proteins).
Spray Painters : workers in auto body shops (and other industries that use spray painting) are exposed to isocyanates and other chemicals found in spray paints.
Firefighters : are exposed to chemicals found in burning buildings, including plastics and other chemicals.
Coal miners : are prone to inhaling coal dust.
Bakers : are exposed to flour dust.
This is not an exhaustive list of jobs that may lead to work-related asthma.
Substances that Can Cause Occupational Asthma
Here’s a list of the most common substances that can cause work-related asthma:
Isocyanates: found in spray paint and adhesives.
Flour and Grain Dust: mostly affects those working in industrial baking, bakeries, farmers, farm workers and those who transport grain.
Wood Dust: hard word dusts and western red cedars are the main culprits of occupational asthma for those who work in sawmilling, carpentry and construction.
Colophony: used in glues, some floor cleaners and is also found in soldering fumes.
Latex Rubber: used in health care products such as latex gloves.
People More Susceptible to Occupational Asthma
People who are more susceptible to occupational asthma include those who have hay fever, people who have a family history of allergies (especially allergies to flour, animals and latex), and those who smoke.
How to Prevent Occupational Asthma
Work-related asthma can be prevented with the following steps:
1. Employers can:
a. remove or reduce substances known to cause occupational asthma
b. educate workers about the causes of work-related asthma
c. provide protective gear (masks and respirators) to protect workers
2. You can do the following:
a. stop smoking
b. avoid substances known to cause work-related asthma
c. see your doctor if you believe you have hay fever, other allergies and/or asthma
d. wear protective gear, such as masks and respirators when working around or with substances known to cause work-related asthma
Occupational asthma is one of the main causes of adult onset asthma; however it can be prevented. Preventive measures include employers educating their employees about the dangers of chemicals and other substances found in their workplace. Businesses can also provide the proper gear to protect employees from harmful substances. You can also take an active role to avoid work-related asthma with self-education and by wearing protective equipment.
Follow the links below to another article about occupational and adult onset asthma, here, on the BellaOnline site.
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