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Occupational Asthma

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Occupational asthma facts

  • Asthma is a lung disease characterized by and reversible narrowing of the airways, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and cough.
  • Occupational asthma is caused by a specific agent in the workplace.
  • Many different agents can cause occupational asthma.
  • Symptoms can begin immediately with exposure or years later.
  • Occupational asthma is diagnosed by a thorough history and physical exam, combined with lung function testing (spirometry or complete pulmonary function tests).
  • Treatment involves the use of typical asthma medications and avoidance measures for the offending agent.

What is occupational asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by reversible inflammation of the airways (bronchi). This inflammation, caused by the immune system, leads to narrowing of the airways, known as bronchoconstriction. Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, and chest tightness. Occupational asthma is a type of asthma that is caused by exposure to a particular substance in the workplace. Previously diagnosed asthma that worsens at work is known as work-aggravated asthma.

There are two main types of occupational asthma: one type caused by an agent that stimulates the body's immune system that then triggers asthma (immune-mediated); and another where the agent directly irritates the airways (irritant-induced). Immune-mediated occupational asthma typically has a period of time (latency period) between the workplace exposure and the beginning of symptoms. This latency period can be from a few weeks to several years. In contrast, irritant-induced occupational asthma usually causes symptoms immediately after exposure.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/1/2016


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