What Is Occupational Asthma?

Some individuals are born with asthma, a respiratory condition that can make breathing difficult and often requires medical intervention. However, others may develop asthma over time because of their work environments. Occupational asthma causes the airways in the respiratory system to swell, limiting the flow of air through the lungs. It’s important to know which industries carry the greatest risks of workers developing occupational asthma and the signs of this condition.

Typical Asthma Symptoms

During an asthma attack, the victim’s airways swell and restrict breathing. Some people experience severe asthma attacks after exposure to triggering substances and airborne irritants. Some of the most common triggering substances that can cause asthma attacks include:

  • Wood particles and sawdust
  • Dust from grains, such as flour
  • Animal dander. Skin flakes from dogs, cats, and other animals may attach to strands of the animal’s fur and irritate the lungs of people nearby.
  • Fungus, such as black mold
  • Chemicals like bleach, ammonia, and other common cleaning substances
  • Metal particles. This is a common concern for steelworkers, construction workers, and welders who may inhale small flecks of metal. This type of exposure can also cause other medical conditions like lead poisoning

People with typical asthma may experience an asthma attack or unpleasant symptoms in a variety of situations, while those who suffer from occupational asthma may only feel negative symptoms throughout the workweek. For example, a woodworker may suffer some of the symptoms of asthma throughout the workweek, and those symptoms worsen toward the end of the week. On the weekends, symptoms may subside or disappear entirely, only to reemerge at the start of the next workday.

Treating Occupational Asthma

One way of dealing with occupational asthma is to simply find another job in a healthier work environment, but this isn’t a realistic option for many people. A worker who suffers from occupational asthma should consult his or her doctor about possible treatments or preventive measures that can limit or prevent symptoms. A doctor can prescribe asthma medication or recommend other steps to limit asthma symptoms at work.

An employer may also be able to help with an employee’s occupational asthma by moving an employee to a different department or providing safety equipment such as respirator or facemask to limit the risk of exposure to triggering substances. However, these measures may only limit exposure rather than eliminate it, and even a small amount of exposure can potentially lead to an asthma attack.

Long-Term Health Effects of Occupational Asthma

It’s possible a person who develops occupational asthma will continue to experience negative symptoms even after changing jobs, transferring to a new workplace, or taking measures prescribed by a doctor. Symptoms may persist for months or years after leaving a triggering environment, and people who experience long-term asthma should consult their doctors for the best treatment options.

Some medications can help mitigate asthmatic reactions or limit the appearance of symptoms. Quick-relief medications are available and can stop an asthma attack in the early stages. Asthma affects people in different ways, and no solution will work for everyone. Generally, people who experience occupational asthma have positive prognoses and will recover with time.

When Asthma Leads to Workers’ Compensation

In some situations, occupational asthma can cause significant health issues and force an employee to miss work. If a worker develops occupational asthma that leads to medical expenses and lost income, he or she would likely have grounds for a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ compensation benefits can help an employee with significant medical bills from occupational asthma or an employee who needed to transfer to a lower-paying position to escape an asthma-triggering work environment. If you are unsure whether your occupational asthma would qualify for a workers’ compensation claim, reach out to an experienced Nashville personal injury lawyer in your area for a consultation.