Wheezing and coughing on the job from work-related asthma is more common than you might think, according to a new U.S. health report.
Almost 16% of American adults, or 1.9 million people, with asthma either developed the condition on the job or have asthma symptoms made worse by conditions in their workplace, said Dr. Jacek Mazurek, lead author of a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That equates to one in 10 Americans who suffer from asthma according to researchers.
Many people who have asthma flare-ups at work experience poor quality of life, loss of income and unemployment.
Asthma attacks occur when the airways constrict in response to some sort of environmental irritant, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Triggers can include allergens, dust, smoke, fragrances and chemicals.
There are two main types of work-related asthma, said Dr. Susan Tarlo, a respiratory physician and a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Asthma that has been caused by work conditions is called occupational asthma, while existing asthma that is triggered by conditions at work is called work-exacerbated asthma.
“Work-exacerbated asthma is much more common,” she said. “We’ve seen a decline in occupational asthma over time, but work-exacerbated asthma has continued to be common.”
A wide array of jobs potentially bring people into contact with these triggers, Mazurek said. These include positions in industrial plants, metal machine shops, welding shops, hospitals and laboratories, woodworking and furniture-making shops, and hair and nail salons.
Even department store employees are at risk for work-related asthma, thanks to the perfume counter, said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “They’re spraying samples of perfume at you in department stores, and that’s definitely a chemical irritant,” Horovitz said.
House cleaners and maid services also carry a certain risk of work-related asthma, because of the dust in houses and the cleaning solutions they use, he added.
What’s the solution if you suffer from work-related asthma? In extreme cases, you might have to look for a new job. Horovitz thinks that’s impractical for most people. “Jobs aren’t that easy to find these days,” he said. “If the job is satisfactory for you, you should try to minimize your exposure to triggers in the workplace.”
You can try wearing a protective breathing mask when the job will expose you to triggers, and talk with your employers about improving ventilation in the work space, Horovitz said.
It also might help your work-related asthma if you reduce the triggers in your home. For example, you can pull up dust-laden carpeting and replace it with linoleum or tile, which is easier to keep allergen-free.
Credit: HealthDay by Dennis Thompson