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Occupational asthma is a reversible narrowing of the airways caused by inhaling work-related particles or vapors that act as irritants or cause an allergic reaction.
- Many substances in the workplace can cause narrowing of the airways causing difficult breathing.
- While some people are sensitive to airborne irritants, some others may develop sick building syndrome.
- Animal handlers and bakers are at maximum risk of occupational asthma caused by allergens.
Symptoms of Occupational asthma
- The common symptoms of occupational asthma are
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Some people may experience wheezing at night as the only symptom.
- Symptoms may develop during work hours but often do not start until a few hours after work.
- In some people symptoms begins as much as 24 hours after exposure.
- Also symptoms may come and go for a few weeks after exposure. The link between workplace and symptoms may often be obscured due to this.
- Symptoms often become milder or disappear on weekends or over holidays.
- Symptoms worsen with repeated exposure.
Diagnosis of Occupational asthma
- Doctor usually asks the person about the symptoms and substances known to cause asthma.
- Skin test (patch test) may be used to determine the allergic reactions. In this test, a small amount of suspected substance is placed on the skin.
- Inhalation challenge test may be employed in cases where diagnosis is more difficult. In this test, a person inhales small amount of suspected substance and is observed for wheezing and shortness of breath and tested for decreasing lung function.
Prevention of Occupational asthma
- Industries using substances that cause asthma must have dust and vapor control measures, but sometimes eliminating dust and vapors may be impossible.
- Workers with occupational asthma should change jobs if possible.
- Continued exposure often leads to more severe and persistent asthma.
Treatment of Occupational asthma
- Treatment for occupational asthma is same as for the other types of asthma.
- Bronchodilators may be given in an inhaler or as tablets.
- Drugs that reduce inflammation may be given in an inhaler or as tablets.
- For severe attacks, corticosteroids may be taken by mouth for a short time.
- For long term management, inhaled corticosteroids are preferred.
People at risk of occupational asthma
- People who work with grains, western red cedar wood, castor beans, isocyanates, dyes, antibiotics, epoxy resins, tea, and enzymes used in manufacturing detergent, malt, leather goods, latex, jewelry, abrasives and paints used in automobile body repairs, animals, shellfish, irritating gases, vapors and mists.