Occupational Asthma

Asthma and your occupation:

Approximately 15 percent of adults with asthma experience occupational asthma. Occupational asthma is a type of asthma caused by exposure to inhaled irritants in the workplace. Occupational asthma is often a reversible condition, which means the symptoms may disappear when the irritants that caused the asthma are avoided. However, permanent damage can result if the person experiences prolonged exposure. Examples of workplace irritants include:

•    dusts
•    gases
•    fumes
•    vapors

What substances cause occupational asthma?

Although new substances are developed every day that may cause occupational asthma, some known airborne irritants in the workplace include:



Type of occupations/
environments at risk

chemical dusts and vapors

isocyanates, trimellitic anhydride, phthalic anhydride

manufacturers of foam mattresses and upholstery, insulation, packaging materials, plasticizers, polyurethane paint

animal substances

bacterial dusts, dander, hair, mites, protein dusts, small insects

farmers, animal handlers, kennel workers, jockeys, veterinarians,

organic dusts

cereals, coffee, flour, grains, tea

millers, bakers, and other food processors

cotton, flax, and hemp dust

dusts from cotton and textile industry

cotton and textile workers


chromium, nickel sulfate, platinum, soldering fumes

manufacturers of metals and refineries

Treatment for occupational asthma:

Treatment for occupational asthma usually includes avoiding the substance that triggers the asthma attack or symptoms. Persons with occupational asthma should also avoid inhaling gases such as chlorine, or nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, as these substances can make asthma symptoms more severe. Other treatment may include medications to control the asthma. If the occupational asthma is advanced, treatment may also include:

•    medications
•    physical therapy
•    breathing aids

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