Could Your Job Be Putting You at Greater Asthma-Related Risk?
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in January 2018 about asthma-related deaths thought to be linked to employment. Certain industries have higher rates of asthma incidence associated with them—when asthma is known to be caused by a person’s work or workplace, it is known as occupational asthma. I’ve written a bit about a specific type of occupational asthma, “baker’s asthma”, here. Some 11% to 21% of asthma-related deaths are connected to occupational asthma—a somewhat shocking statistic, since it is likely that even greater proportions of people with asthma are putting themselves at risk each day they go to work.
Often, it is not typically that reasonable to simply change your industry of work—especially in today’s economy. However, being aware of what type of industries of environments may make your asthma worse at work, you may be able to take precautions under the advice of your doctor to prevent your asthma from worsening at work, such as changing roles, your work environment, or modifying your treatment to enable you to continue to work while keeping your asthma under better control.
Industries found to be linked to higher incidence of asthma
Some industries or workplaces put people at higher risk of both asthma and asthma-related death. Workplaces with known “asthma-causing agents” in the environment can be risky for both people without asthma who could develop lung disease because of their work environment, and people who already have asthma and will be regularly exposed to triggers that have been known to cause or exacerbate lung problems. 1
It is important to remember the limitations of the study (including lack of employment information, health history, the fact that many people with lung disease leave the workforce due to their disease and may have had a “less-direct” cause of asthma related death, and so fort 1, and thus, this research is simply information, not advice. Per this research, industries of highest risk in general are manufacturing (miscellaneous), construction, beverage and tobacco manufacturing, retail trade workers, and healthcare and social assistance workers (due to environmental exposures of their workplaces, such as vapors, gas, dust, and fumes). 1
Research indicates the following industries are of the highest correlation with asthma-related death by gender. 1
For males, the highest risk was for those working in construction, transportation and warehousing, “other retail trade”, and accommodation and food services. 1
For females, those working in healthcare, accommodation and food services, “other retail trade” and educational services were at highest risk.
Highest risk was among older workers, 55-64 years old, followed by workers aged 45 to 54. 1
What to do about occupational asthma
If you feel you are at greater risk for occupational asthma symptoms or developing occupational asthma due to your workplace, start by speaking to your doctor, as well as your employer.
Early diagnosis and treatment leads to the best outcomes, and can help avoid permanent lung damage. 2
Your doctor may help by prescribing medications to prevent your lungs from reacting to irritants or allergens at your workplace. 2
Your employer may also be able to help by removing triggers from the workplace, switching chemicals or other irritant triggers used in your occupation, or assisting you in finding a different role within the workplace.2Employment laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act 3, the Canadian Human Rights Act under Employment Equity4,5, and UK Disability Rights law 6, all provide protection for people with asthma in the workplace.
Is your asthma caused or triggered by factors related to your employment? What have you done to manage it?