Occupational asthma is the most common occupational lung disease. There are two possible issues involving asthma in the workplace:
1. Some people who already have asthma can have their condition worsened by a certain exposure at work. This is called "Work-related asthma".
2. Some people can develop asthma as a result of a certain exposure at work. This is what is called "Occupational asthma".
What do you do for a living?
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If you are one of the 2.5 million Canadians with asthma, you need to be aware of the air quality in your workplace environment; it is just as important to your health as your home environment. It is important to determine what your asthma triggers are, and take measures to reduce or eliminate exposure to them. Although it is often not possible to get rid of all your asthma triggers, the more you can do the better off you’ll be.
Some people can develop asthma for the first time from exposure in their workplace. When the actual cause of asthma is something at work, it is called occupational asthma. Occupational asthma is the most common of all occupational lung diseases in Canada. There are over 300 chemicals in the workplace known to cause occupational asthma. This includes everything from wood dust at sawmills to chemical fumes in the plastics industry.
If you have occupational asthma, it is not usually necessary to leave your job in order to improve your health. After speaking with your doctor, take action to avoid your asthma triggers.
Work with your employer to come up with solutions to help control your asthma. This may involve moving to a different area within your workplace or improving ventilation.
Occupational fields associated with a higher risk of developing asthma include:
- Hair, nail & beauty salons - booklet
- Hair, nail & beauty salons - brochure
- Plastics (isocyanates)
- Metals & metal-working fluids (metals)
- Higher risk industries
- Poultry, swine and livestock (animal allergens)
- Cattle, dairy & large animal (animal allergens)
- Grain & non-row crop workers
- Landscaping, mushroom & greenhouse workers
- Baking (flour dust)
- Health care professionals (latex, drugs, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde)
- Janitors, cleaning industry (cleaning products)
- Automobile painting (isocyanates)
- Veterinarians, animal research
- Sawmill workers (wood dusts)
- Electronic workers (flux)
- Detergent users (enzymes)
- Seafood processors (seafood)
- Textile workers (dyes)
- Hairdressers (persulfate)
How do you know if you have work-related asthma?
You can suspect that your work may be causing your Asthma symptoms if you answer "yes" to more than one of the following questions:
What you can do
Whether it’s "work-related asthma" or "occupational asthma", it is important to get it under control as soon as possible. Asthma control involves reducing or eliminating your exposure to the offending agent, and you also may require regular asthma medications. Other than this step, the treatment of work-related asthma is the same as the treatment of any asthma as outlined in the Managing Your Asthma section. As with anyone with asthma, it is important to have a written Asthma Action Plan from your doctor to help you take better control and reduce the chance of asthma attacks.Take the following steps:
- Where available, express your asthma concerns to your Joint Health and Safety Committee member
- Contact one of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers listed here for guidance: www.ohcow.on.ca/clinics/index.html
- Visit your family physician, who can send you for asthma breathing tests (called Spirometry) that measure your lung function
Although the 1998 "Canadian Thoracic Society Guidelines for Occupational Asthma" is written for health care professionals, you might find it useful to read.
The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW), is a government agency that offers information on occupational asthma:
Occupational Asthma - General:
Occupational Asthma - Agricultural:
Occupational Asthma - Automotive:
Occupational Asthma - Bakers:
Work-Related Asthma Resources