Occupational asthma is an industrial illness that accounts for a minimum of one in every six cases of adult asthma. Now one of the most commonly experienced occupational diseases affecting the lungs, it is known to affect between 12 and 300 out of every one million workers every year. Actual figures may, however, be substantially higher than this, because many cases remain unrecognised.
Common irritants causing occupational asthma
Some of the most common irritants known to cause this work-related disease include:
- Wood dust
The condition can be developed following prolonged exposure to irritants or high volumes thereof, following work accidents.
High risk occupations
Occupations most at risk of developing occupational asthma include:
- Car mechanics (in particular those involved in spray painting)
- Cooks, bakers, pastry makers and food processing operatives
- Health/ Dental care workers.
- Laboratory animal workers
Individuals working in plastics, rubber and textile manufacture; chemical processing and other jobs where they are potentially exposed to fumes and/ or dust are equally at high risk.
Types and symptoms of work related asthma
Approximately 90 per cent of occupational asthma (OA) cases are classified as hypersensitivity-induced OA. The remaining 10 per cent are classed as irritant-induced asthma, which is also referred to as RADS (Reactive Air-ways Dysfunction Syndrome).
Symptoms typically include air-flow limitation (breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, wheezing) and coughing. During the early stages of work-induced asthma sufferers often experience relief from these symptoms during extended periods away from work, although this in itself is not a sure sign that the condition is present and work-related.
Diagnosis requires a series of tests, including repeated, regular peak flow measurements over prolonged periods both at work and at home, dynamic lung function tests, reversibility testing and more. Patients with suspected occupational asthma are typically referred to chest or occupational health physicians very quickly, as early diagnosis is vital to prevent this occupational disease becoming chronic.
Occupational asthma and accidents at work
Any worker diagnosed with occupational asthma due to prolonged exposure to irritants or short-term, high-volume exposure during/ after workplace accidents may be eligible to claim for industrial injury compensation. Accident Advice Helpline advisers are available for a confidential chat to confirm eligibility via a 24/7 free-phone number. Alternatively, workers can use the compensation calculator on the company’s website to determine whether a claim is likely to succeed.
Date Published: October 28, 2013
Author: David Brown