WHAT IS OCCUPATIONAL ASTHMA?
Occupational Asthma is a condition where the onset or reoccurrence of Asthma is correlated with occupational exposure to fumes, gases, dust and other substances. Those at increased risk for developing Occupational Asthma include bakers, detergent and drug manufacturers, farmers, grain elevator workers, metal workers, millers, plastic workers, laboratory personnel and woodworkers, among others. Occupational Asthma may come on suddenly or develop over months or years. The length of time you are exposed, and the intensity of the exposure can increase your risk for Occupational Asthma.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing. The difference between Occupational Asthma and other types of Asthma is that the symptoms occur, or are exasperated, while on the job. If you notice your symptoms improve or they are not exhibited at all when you are away from work, you may have Occupational Asthma.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Your Esse Health doctor will take a medical history, ask about the type of work you do, about any airborne irritants you may be exposed to while working, and about your Asthma attacks and what you think might be triggering them. You may have a lung function test where a spirometer is used to measure the total amount of air you can inhale and exhale both before arriving at work and immediately after you leave work. This will help establish a correlation. A skin prick test to determine the allergen, a chest X-ray and a blood test may be needed.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
Once the allergen that triggers your Asthma has been identified, you will need to avoid exposure if possible. Pre-treatment with medications to diminish the symptoms is an option, as are inhaled medications called bronchodilators that can open the airways once an attack occurs. Continued exposure can cause lung damage, so it is important to talk with your employer about ways to minimize your exposure.