Diseases & Medicine

Occupational Asthma: Causes, Symptoms, Risks and Prevention

Occupational asthma can develop as a result of being exposed to a material to which you are allergic or immune, or to a hazardous substance that causes irritation.

Occupational asthma is asthma brought on by inhaling chemical fumes, gases, dust, or other chemicals while at work. Occupational asthma can develop as a result of being exposed to a material to which you are allergic or immune, or to a hazardous substance that causes irritation.

Occupational asthma, like other types of asthma, can cause chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Occupational asthma is more common in people who have allergies or have a family history of allergies.

Occupational triggers should be avoided as much as possible. Other than that, treatment for occupational asthma is similar to treatment for other types of asthma, and it usually include taking drugs to alleviate symptoms. If you already have asthma, therapy may be able to keep it from getting worse at work.

Occupational asthma can cause permanent lung damage, disability, or death if it isn’t diagnosed appropriately and you aren’t protected or able to prevent exposure.


During an asthma episode, what happens?

The symptoms of occupational asthma are similar to those of other forms of asthma. The following are possible signs and symptoms:

  • Wheezing, especially at night
  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Tightness in the chest

Other indications and symptoms that may be present include:

  • a runny nose
  • Congestion in the nose
  • Tearing and discomfort of the eyes

The substance you’re exposed to, how long and how often you’re exposed, and other factors all have a role in occupational asthma symptoms. Your signs and symptoms may:

  • As the workweek progresses, the symptoms worsen, fade away during weekends and vacations, then reappear when you return to work.
  • Happen both at work and at home.
  • Begin as soon as you’re exposed to an asthma-inducing substance at work, or after a period of consistent exposure.
  • Continue when the exposure has been turned off. The longer you’re exposed to an asthma trigger, the more likely you are to develop long-term or permanent asthma symptoms.

When should you see a doctor?

If your symptoms worsen, seek medical help right once. Asthma episodes that are severe can be fatal. The following are signs and symptoms of an asthma attack that need immediate medical attention:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing that worsens quickly
  • Even after utilizing a rapid relief inhaler, there was no improvement.
  • Even with moderate activity, you may have shortness of breath.

If you’re having trouble breathing, such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath, make an appointment to visit a doctor. Breathing difficulties could be a sign of asthma, particularly if symptoms worsen over time or are aggravated by certain triggers or irritants.



Over 250 industrial chemicals have been identified as potential triggers for occupational asthma. These are some of the substances:

  • Animal compounds; Proteins present in dander, hair, scales, fur, saliva, and body wastes
  • Chemicals; Paints, varnishes, adhesives, laminates, and soldering resin . Chemicals used in insulation, packing materials, and foam mattresses and upholstery are some further examples.
  • Enzymes; Detergents and flour conditioners.
  • Metals; Platinum, chromium, and nickel sulfate .
  • Plant compounds; Proteins present in natural rubber latex, flour, cereals, cotton, flax, hemp, rye, wheat, and papain – a digestive enzyme derived from papaya.
  • Respiratory irritants; Chlorine gas, sulfur dioxide, and smoke

When your lungs get irritated, you develop asthma symptoms (inflamed). Inflammation triggers a chain of events that narrow the airways, making breathing difficult. Lung inflammation can be produced by an allergic reaction to a chemical in occupational asthma, which normally develops over time. In the absence of allergies, inhaling fumes from a lung irritant, such as chlorine, can cause rapid asthma symptoms.

Risk Factors

Occupational asthma is more likely to develop if your exposure is severe. You’ll also be at a higher risk if you:

You suffer from allergies or asthma. Despite the fact that this increases your risk, many people with allergies or asthma work in environments that expose them to lung irritants and never experience symptoms.
Your family has a history of allergies or asthma. A genetic tendency to asthma may be passed down from your parents.
You plan your work around asthma triggers. Some compounds are known to irritate the lungs and provoke asthma attacks.
You’re a smoker. If you are exposed to particular types of irritants while smoking, you are more likely to acquire asthma.

Jobs with a high level of risk

Occupational asthma can occur in practically any job environment. However, if you work in particular occupations, your risk is increased. The following are some of the riskiest jobs and the asthma-inducing drugs linked with them:

Jobs Substances that cause asthma
Handlers of adhesives Chemicals
Veterinarians and animal handlers Proteins derived from animals
Bakers, millers, and farmers  

Grains of cereal

Carpet manufacturers Gums from vegetables
Workers in the metal industry Nickel, cobalt
Workers in the food industry egg powder, milk powder
Foresters, carpenters, and cabinetmakers Dust from wood
Hairdressers Dyes
Employees in the medical field Chemicals and latex
Pharmacists and bakers Enzymes, drugs
Processors of seafood Snow crab, herring
Welders, metalworkers, chemical manufacturers Chemicals
Workers in the textile industry Plastics, dyes
Chemical makers, users of plastics Chemicals


The longer you’re exposed to a material that causes occupational asthma, the worse your symptoms will grow – and the longer it will take for them to improve once the irritant is removed. Exposure to asthma triggers in the air can result in irreversible lung alterations, which can lead to disability or death.


Workplaces that control workers’ exposure to chemicals and other compounds that may be sensitizers or irritants are the best method to prevent occupational asthma.

Implementing better control systems to prevent exposures, utilizing less dangerous compounds, and providing workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) are examples of such strategies.

Although drugs can help ease symptoms and regulate inflammation associated with occupational asthma, there are a few things you can do on your own to improve your overall health and reduce the risk of attacks:

  • Quit smoking if you’re a smoker. Being smoke-free may help avoid or minimize the symptoms of occupational asthma, in addition to all of the other health benefits.
  • Get vaccinated against the flu. This can aid in the prevention of sickness.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other treatments that may exacerbate symptoms should be avoided.
  • Reduce your weight. Obese people can improve their symptoms and lung function by shedding weight


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