Occupational asthma is much like regular asthma. However, it's caused by substances that workers breathe in at their workplace. This can include gases, chemical fumes, dust and more. More than 250 substances found in some workplaces have been linked to occupational asthma.
Some people suffer from occupational asthma because they're simply sensitive to something they're breathing. In other cases, what they're breathing is a toxic substance. People who already have allergies or asthma or have a family history of these conditions may be more likely to develop occupational asthma. Smokers are also at greater risk. However, anyone can develop it.
Symptoms of occupational asthma can include:
- Runny nose and congestion
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Eye irritation
Some of these symptoms can continue even after a person has gone home for the day or the week.
If these symptoms don't go away or they worsen, it's important that you see a doctor. If occupational asthma goes undiagnosed, you could suffer permanent lung damage or other serious consequences. Asthma attacks can even be fatal.
It's not just chemicals, gases and other toxic substances that can cause occupational asthma. People who work around animal and plant substances can also be at risk. Some of the higher-risk occupations include:
- Food production handlers, including seafood processors
- Adhesive handlers
- Carpet makers
- Bakers, farmers, millers and others exposed to cereal grains
- Metal workers
- Textile workers
- Health care workers
- Cabinet makers and others who are exposed to wood dust
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require employers to inform workers about any hazardous chemicals in the workplace, provide training for handling them and make sure they have and know how to use the appropriate protective gear. However, the substance causing your occupational asthma may not be considered a toxic substance.
If you're diagnosed with occupational asthma, it's important to follow your doctor's instructions, which may include taking medication. It's also important to find out what steps you and your employer can take to reduce your exposure to the substance. If your employer won't make the necessary accommodations or if you need to obtain workers' compensation, it may be wise to consult with an attorney to make sure that your rights are protected.