& Environmental
College of Human Medicine

What Is Work-Related Asthma

african american worker

Some adults develop new asthma from breathing substances in the air at work. Other adults already have asthma that gets worse when they are at work. Both of these descriptions are considered work-related asthma.

15% of adults with asthma have work-related asthma. That's almost 1 out of every 6 adult asthmatics. In some cases work-related asthma has proven to be fatal.

What Are the Symptoms of Work-Related Asthma?

Common symptoms can be:

  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Feeling short of breath
These symptoms can develop immediately after being exposed to an asthma-causing substance, or later in the day, or at home after work. At first, symptoms may go away or get better on days you do not work. With repeated exposure, symptoms will occur at home as well as at work. Typically, months or even years working with an asthma-causing substance will pass before any symptoms develop.

What Causes Work-Related Asthma?

Asthma attacks can happen when a person is exposed to substances called sensitizers or triggers. People with work-related asthma may have different substances that trigger their asthma. There are over 300 substances that can cause asthma in the workplace.
  • Chemicals in paints and cleaning products
  • Isocyanates
  • Metal working fluids
  • Animals and insects
  • Dusts from wood, grain, flour, and latex
  • Some glues and resins

Who Gets Work-Related Asthma?

construction worker

A person could work with these substances in many different jobs and industries, such as:
  • Factories that make auto parts
  • Working with laboratory animals
  • Shops that spray paint vehicles
  • Hospitals, schools and stores
  • Shops that do wood working
  • Flour mills and bakeries
  • Chemical workers
These are just a few examples.

What Should You Do If You Think You Have Work-Related Asthma?

Talk to your doctor. Under you doctor's guidance, you can:
Keep a daily record of your asthma. Keep track of what your asthma is like, and when it seems to get better or worse.

Talk to your Health & Safety representative. Ask to look at the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to see if you work with any asthma triggers. You have a right to see these sheets and to get copies for your doctor.

Ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in work-related asthma.

Find More Information About Work-Related Asthma

Download this information (pdf)