Occupational Asthma: High Risk Work Places

Certain work places carry allergens and precipitants that can worsen existing asthma. However, there are certain work places that can lead to asthma like condition even in those individuals that do not have asthma. Such occupational asthma usually subsides after shifting from work, but being aware of this risk can prepare for such an eventuality.
Occupational Asthma: High Risk Work Places
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Occupational Asthma is a disease that results from working in certain high risk work places. Being different from usual asthma, it is actually an occupational hazard of working in those occupations. Being aware of such occupational hazard can help one prepare to minimize the damage and take all available steps for its prevention. Awareness can make all the difference.

Occupational Asthma

‘Occupational asthma’ refers to cases of asthma caused by occupational exposure to certain allergens, and is thus differs from those cases of asthma which get aggravated in the same occupations. Making this difference and correctly diagnosing the disease has important

consequences because in case of occupational asthma, avoiding the occupational exposure can vastly improve the prognosis.

Depending upon individual allergies, occupational asthma can happen in almost any work place that involves dust, metals, plastics, animals or chemicals. Simply put, there are few workplaces totally immune from it, but the frequency of occupational asthma observed in workers differs from place to place. Dust is a very common culprit. Any work-place that involves dust, whether it is wood-dust, or sand or animal dust or any other form of dust can potentially lead to occupational asthma, hence it is important that in every work-place, the dust is kept to a minimum.

Animal dust can create problems even in very small quantities, hence their handling is even more challenging. Worst category consists of those dust particles which are light and hence remain suspended in air for very long times. These include fabric, chemicals and fibres.

Different from Occupational Lung Diseases

Occupational asthma is not the same as occupational lung diseases which can also develop among worker. Thus farmer’s lung, which is actually a hypersensitivity peumonitis, or the humidifier’s lung are not same as asthma. They involve disease of the lungs, while the occupational asthma involves the air-ways. It also differs from other systemic occupational diseases like Silicosis, which happen after a long exposure to occupations involving silica dust and involves many irreversible changes in lung, or other Pneumoconiosis like Anthracosis (black lung associated with coal dust), Asbestosis (asbestos dust) and Siderosis (iron dust).

Characteristics of Occupational Asthma

The primary characteristic of occupational asthma is the fact that it improves on weekends and during leave, and may even disappear after change of working environment. A similar relief may also be seen in asthma (not caused, but aggravated by occupation) but in such cases, asthma may not fully disappear even after stopping exposure to work-place.

High Risk Places for Occupational Asthma

The work-places carrying high risk of asthma are :

1.  Chemical industry

As per a 2003 report of the U.S. Department of Labor (Occupational safety and health administration), chemicals accounted for the largest number of occupation related asthma. These chemicals included ‘Cleaning materials’ which were the single largest category of work related asthma, accounting for over 12%, closely followed by ‘Solvent industry’, i.e.. paints and paint thinners and ‘Hydrocarbons’, i.e.. cutting oils, which accounted for 8% and 5% respectively. Industries producing or utilizing other chemicals accounted for another 20% of work related asthma.

Thus over a third of work related asthma is observed to be related with Chemical industry and workplaces extensively using chemicals. This makes is desirable that people opting for jobs in such

industries get themselves medically screened for respiratory diseases, and subsequently monitored at regular intervals. Those with asthma should preferably avoid such workplaces as their condition can get worsened. In case, they do need to work there, which is very often the case, they must take precautions of using protective gear, masks and to the extent possible, insist for proper exhausts and ventilation at the work-place.

2. Minerals and inorganic industries

Minerals and inorganic industries together are related to around 11% of all cases of work related asthma making it the second most risky work-place for asthma. These include mines, ore storage places, ore transportation, extraction industries, cement industry, plastic works and fiberglass manufacturing . The mineral ore as well as inorganic dust is a dangerous pollutant which in addition to causing or worsening asthma can also lead to pneumoconiosis.

3. Construction industry

Air pollution caused by construction and home renovation industry is the third most risky place in terms of its causation or aggravation of asthma. It leads to dust and indoor pollution of various types which are all dangerous.

4. Diesel exhaust & Pyrolysis industry

Diesel exhaust is a highly irritant fume as are the other air borne by products of pyrolysis industry which can cause severe irritation to the airways and lead to asthma in the workers.

5. Welding industries

All metal products industries cause air pollution with fumes and metallic dust, both of which are high irritants and can lead to causation of asthma among the workers.

6. Farming & organic industries

Farming exposes workers to organic dust and pollen, both of which are sources of allergy and thus can lead to asthma in people allergic to them. Often such people may benefit by a change of the crop or location. Their symptoms too are worse in certain times of the year.

7. Polymers & Latex industry

The polymers industry including latex and other rubber products accounts for 5% of work related asthma cases as per the US Department of Labor report. This still makes it one of the risky workplaces for occupation asthma.

Thus, the risk of occupational asthma is widely spread among different industries, and those who develop asthma after joining the job in one of these work-places may actually be a case of occupation asthma, which may subside if they are able to shift their job. However, one must remember that differentiating asthma from occupational asthma is not easy and hence they need to weigh all the pros and cons of such a decision.

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