Workplace-Based Triggers

If you are one of the many people who experiences occupational asthma, determining exactly what it is that makes you sick can pose a large challenge, particularly if you work in a varied workplace and come into contact with many different potential triggers. You could be having an occupational asthma reaction from a wide variety of things, from latex gloves to chemicals and cleaning supplies or even to mold or dust.

The Facts about Occupational Asthma

With so many complicated factors that come into play when it comes to identifying occupational asthma, it is not uncommon for doctors to be thrown off track. Often people who suffer from this condition are misdiagnosed with bronchitis or other respiratory infections, when really, it is occupational asthma that is triggered by on-the-job factors that is causing the symptoms.

Because of the challenges in identifying this condition, it is hard to know how many people are affected by it. The experts do say that the problem of occupational asthma is widespread, though, and affects people throughout the world in a variety of industries and workplaces. In the United States, at least 15 percent of all asthma cases (and probably many more) can be traced back to job-related circumstances.

Who is Susceptible

If you have allergies and asthma, or have a family history of these conditions, you are likely to be more susceptible to having a flare up brought on by conditions or substances you come into contact with on the job. Further, if you had asthma as a child that hasn't bothered you in quite a while, you are increased risk of having the symptoms come back in the form of occupational asthma when you are exposed to triggers while on the job. In addition, people who smoke increase their risk of suffering from occupational asthma and related problems.

Diagnosing the Problem

If you think you have occupational asthma, you and your doctor may need to do some detective work to help confirm this diagnosis and also narrow in on the possible causes. First, pay attention to whether your symptoms are worse during the week, then resolve over the weekend or when you are away from work, then flare again when you return. This can confirm your job setting or materials are to blame. Keeping a journal of symptoms can help you to identify patterns and determine possible offenders. In addition, it can be helpful to experiment to see if you can lessen your body's response. Try changing offices and eliminating exposure to different chemicals and products each day to see if your reaction lessens. This can go a long way in helping you narrow in on the cause.

Finally, take the time to understand how your occupational asthma symptoms are triggered so you can better identify possible triggers. For instance, it could be direct exposure to a substance that irritates your lungs or causes naturally-occurring chemicals to build up there and make them more sensitive, or it may be the result of an allergic response to long-term exposure of a product or chemical. By working with your doctor to answer some key questions about your typical day and by paying attention to small details, you can help to determine what is making you sick and come up with a strategy for preventing your symptoms so you will be able to breathe better on the job.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

European Respiratory Journal

 G. Moscato1, J-L. Malo2 and D. Bernstein3 Eur Respir J 2003; 21:879-885
Copyright ©ERS Journals Ltd 2003