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Asthma and Work-related Asthma

Developed by:
Dana Hughes, RN, PhD
Miners Hospital, University of Utah

Libbey M. Chuy, MPH

Asthma Program, Utah Department of Health

Asthma What is it?

Symptoms of asthma
What is work-related asthma?
How common is work-related asthma?
What substances trigger asthma?
How asthma is treated?
Clues that suggest asthma may be work-related
What YOU can do if you have asthma
Asthma What is It?
Asthma is a chronic lung
disease that obstructs

The obstruction is

It involves difficulty in
breathing due to
Inflammation (swelling)
Mucus in the airways
Tightening of muscles around
the airways
Symptoms of asthma

Wheezing, a whistling sound
Shortness of breath
Chest tightness
Sneezing & runny nose
Itchy and inflamed eyes
What is work-related asthma?
Pre-existing asthma that is triggered or made
worse by exposure to one or more substances in
the work-environment


Asthma that is caused by exposure to substances

in the work-environment

Signs and symptoms are the same for

asthma and work-related asthma
How common is asthma?
About 20 million Americans currently have
About 8% of Utah adults have asthma

Up to 20% of all adult asthma cases maybe

work-related asthma

Of those diagnosed with work-related asthma:

20-27% are individuals with pre-existing asthma who react to
substances in the workplace
Up to 80% develop asthma due to work-place exposures
What substances trigger asthma?

Type of Substance Examples

Air pollutants, including dusts, Diesel exhaust; tobacco smoke; mineral,
rock, coal, & wood dusts; gases; fumes &
smoke, mists & fumes
vapors from aerosol agents, chemicals,
cleaning materials, solvents, paints,
welding & from heating & cooling
metals quickly
Pollens, mites & molds Trees, flowers, weeds, hay, plants

Animal dander Birds, cats, dogs

Medications Aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs

Foods Egg, wheat, nuts

Can asthma be cured?
Asthma can be controlled (but not cured) by:
Avoiding triggers or reducing exposure to triggers
Using medication to control symptoms

Medications - generally two types are used

Controller or long-term drugs
Taken to prevent excess production of mucus & to reduce
the inflammation and constriction of airway muscles
Rescue or quick-relief drugs
Taken to relax muscles around the airways to improve
Poorly controlled asthma leads to:

Increased visits to
Doctor, Urgent Care
Clinic or Hospital ER
Limitations in daily
Lost work days
Lower quality of life
What clues suggest that asthma is
Do symptoms:
Occur only at work or
regularly after a work-
Improve on weekends
or vacations?
Increase over the
course of the work
Improve after changes in
the work environment?
Information to share with doctor
Discuss your symptoms.
When do they occur?
How often do they occur?
Time of day or week that symptoms are
Times you feel better
Substances in the work-place to which
you are exposed
Current and previous jobs, hobbies,
and smoking habits that may affect
your lungs
What YOU can do if you have asthma?
Identify and minimize contact with your
asthma trigger(s)

Understand and take asthma medications as


Recognize early signs that your asthma is

getting worse

Know what to do when your asthma is

getting worse