Work-related asthma and how to prevent it

He never smoked, was in good physical shape, and had been healthy for most of
his life. So when the coughing and wheezing began, and then worsened, Michel
knew something was very wrong. His doctor questioned him about the years he had
spent at a workplace without proper ventilation - breathing in harmful
chemicals. After further investigation, many tests and examinations, Michel's
doctor diagnosed him with occupational asthma.

Asthma is a common lung disease that creates narrowing of the air passages
making it difficult to breathe. It can affect your overall quality of life and
your ability to work, and when asthma is not managed, it can even threaten your
life. If you are exposed to certain workplace chemicals or agents, you may be
at risk for developing occupational asthma.

Often people with work-related asthma do not realize that their symptoms are
related to their work because they are the same as those for regular asthma:
attacks of difficult breathing, tightness of the chest, coughing, and wheezing.
However, in work-related asthma, the symptoms are usually worse on working
days, and improve when the person is away from the workplace - on the weekend,
days off and during vacations.

There are 2 types of work-related asthma:

  • occupational asthma or respiratory sensitization, which is caused by exposure to an agent in the workplace

  • work-aggravated asthma where factors at work worsen the condition of someone who already has asthma

Agents that can cause occupational asthma

There are many agents used in workplaces that can cause asthma in people
working with them. Examples include certain:

  • chemicals including isocyanates

  • metals and metal-working fluids

  • dyes, drugs, and enzymes

  • grains, flours, plants, and gums

  • animal and shellfish proteins

  • fungi

  • wood dusts including red cedar

Factors that can trigger work-aggravated asthma

Workplace respiratory irritants and certain workplace factors can trigger
work-aggravated asthma. These could include:

  • vapours, gases, dusts, mists, sprays or fumes from industrial materials and cleaning products

  • dust mites or mould/fungal spores

  • indoor air pollution resulting from poor ventilation

  • outdoor air pollution and smog (for outdoor workers)

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety