Occupational Asthma

Occupational Asthma

What is occupational asthma?

This is asthma caused by dusts or chemicals breathed in from the workplace air. It is a form of allergic reaction. The affected individual's immune system becomes sensitised over time to these substances. Further exposure triggers a response within the immune system, which results in the condition we describe as asthma. The net effect of the immune response is that the bronchi, or breathing tubes become narrowed. Narrowing of the bronchi produces the common symptoms of breathlessness and wheezing. The symptoms are often worse at night, and may improve at weekends and on holidays.

What causes occupational asthma?

The following objects and substances have been identified as causes of occupational asthma:

  • Isocyanates, found in vehicle spray painting.
  • Flour/grain/hay from working with grains at dock, milling, malting and baking.
  • Electronic soldering flux, from working in electronic assembly.
  • Latex rubber from working in health care and laboratories.
  • Laboratory animals.
  • Wood dust, from saw milling and woodworking.
  • Hair dyes from working in hairdressers.

What are the symptoms of occupational asthma?

Symptoms do not occur the first time that you are exposed to the substance. It takes time for the immune system to be sensitised. The process may even take up to two years to develop. Symptoms may include irritation of the eyes and nose, breathlessness, wheezing, tightness of chest and coughing.

Respiratory distress due to asthma.

What should I do if I have the symptoms of occupational asthma?

Are there long term effects?

These attacks can continue long after exposure to the triggering substances has ceased. Even if one changes employment the problem of asthma may persist. There is the added difficulty of developing sensitivity to substances other than the initial trigger. Exposure to cold air or cigarette smoke may also cause episodes of coughing or wheezing.

What are the legal duties of an employer?

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