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Occupational Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory disease. It creates narrowing of the airways in the lungs. When individuals are exposed to certain substances, their airways narrow, making it difficult for them to breathe.

What is Occupational Asthma?
Occupational asthma refers to asthma that is caused by breathing in specific agents attributable to a particular working environment and not to stimuli encountered outside the workplace.

Who is at Risk?
Only a small proportion of exposed workers develop occupational asthma.

Workers most likely develop the disease are those with a personal or family history of allergies or asthma and frequent exposure to highly sensitizing substances such as certain chemicals, wood dust or animal antigens. But the disease can also develop in a person with no known allergies.

Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms include:
Tightness of chest
Shortness of breath

Asthma symptoms vary among people. Some people may have all these symptoms while others may only have a wheeze or a cough.
Listed below are some identified triggers of Occupational Asthma:
Isocyanates & metals - boat builders, plastics factory workers, cement workers, spray painters and foam producers, insulation workers
Animals, insects and fungi - farm workers, pigeon breeders, and egg processors
Wood - wood finishers, carpenters, timber millers, woodworkers and pattern makers
Chemicals - health care workers, aircraft fitters, fur dyers and aluminum cable solderers
Drugs and enzymes - detergent manufacturers, food technologists, laboratory workers and pharmaceutical workers

Preventative Measures
The best way to prevent occupational asthma is:
Replace dangerous substances with less harmful ones,
Reduce exposure to sensitizers, triggers and irritants through engineering controls e.g. local ventilation
Education of workers e.g. proper handling procedures, avoidance of spills and good housekeeping

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Asthma, September 2002.
The American Lung Association. Occupational Asthma. March 2002.
The Lung Association. Asthma, January 2003.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Asthma. February 2004.
Workplace Safety Insurance Board. Asthma and the Workplace. February 2003.