Occupational asthma is the most common cause of adult onset asthma with 1 in 10 cases attributed to work related factors.

As with other forms of asthma it involves inflammation of the airway and reversible airways obstruction which can present itself in the form of,

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Tightness across the chest
  • Nasal irritation / congestion
  • Eye irritation

Common to all is the fact that symptoms will worsen during and after work and improve during time spent away from the workplace.  Pre-existing asthma can be triggered by similar agents.

Symptoms can develop by inhaling substances referred to as ‘respiratory sensitisers’ which might include certain dusts, particularly wood dust, gases, fumes and vapours, dust from latex rubber and chemicals associated to paint spraying.  Different occupations across industrial settings pose different and sometimes greater risk particularly those who work in plastic, rubber and chemical industries, textile workers, farm workers and bakers.

If you believe you could be suffering from occupational asthma you should consult with your GP who will refer you to see an ‘occupational respiratory specialist’ at your local hospital or chest clinic.  A number of skin and blood tests will be made and you might be required to measure the air flowing into and out of your lungs (peak flow) at work and home using a handheld device (peak flow meter) to observe any work-related patterns.  Maintaining a diary to chart your symptoms will be helpful.

If you are diagnosed with occupational asthma this does not mean you will have stop work, instead, your employer will be required under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to find you an alternative role thereby protecting you from those respiratory sensitisers, if your symptoms persist.

Workers most at risk of allergic occupational asthma:

  • Spray painting – commonly affected by a chemical called isocyanate (typically in 2-pack paints).
  • Engineering – people who work in machining or shaping can be exposed to metal working fluids (MWFs) which can cause occupational asthma if you inhale the mist or vapour.
  • Bakers – commonly affected by flour dust and enzymes containing additives such as amylase.
  • Woodworkers– joinery and furniture industries are exposed to hardwood dusts and wood composites.
  • Soldering – exposed to fumes from rosin-based solder flux.
  • Healthcare work – there are two key substances that can cause asthma in healthcare workers.
    (1) Latex – natural rubber latex proteins have the potential to cause asthma if someone comes into contact with them regularly.
    (2) Diathermy – A surgical technique using heat from an electric current to cut tissue or seal bleeding vessels can emit invisible toxic gases, particles and vapours which can cause asthma symptoms.
  • Animal workers – pet shop, stable owners, laboratory workers and zookeepers can potentially be affected by animal fur, feathers, dander, dried urine and saliva dusts during animal handling and cage or enclosure cleaning which contain proteins known as ‘animal aeroallergens’ that can cause occupational asthma.
  • Agricultural workers – agricultural dust is the most common cause of occupational asthma amongst workers this industry who come into contact with grain, poultry and other dusts representing a mix of materials including fungal spores, bacteria, endotoxins, mites, animal dander and faeces, plant dust, soil, bedding, feed and feed components, chemicals, etc.
  • Hairdressing – Hairdressers’ bleach contains persulphate which can cause occupational asthma.

If you have been diagnosed with occupational asthma or believe you have been exposed to harmful substances in your workplace call us today on FREEPHONE 0808 164 6018, complete our Enquire Now form, talk to us via our Live Chat or email us at, info@asbestoshealthcheck.co.uk.

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