Occupational Asthma

  • Medical Author:
    Syed Shahzad Mustafa, MD

    After growing up in the Rochester area, Dr. Mustafa pursued his undergraduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and attended medical school at SUNY Buffalo. He then completed his internal medicine training at the University of Colorado and stayed in Denver to complete his fellowship training in allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Colorado, National Jewish Health, and Children's Hospital of Denver.

  • Medical Author: Allison Ramsey, MD
    Allison Ramsey, MD

    Dr. Allison Ramsey earned her undergraduate degree at Colgate University and her medical degree at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She completed her internal medicine training at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and remained at the university to complete her fellowship training in allergy and clinical immunology. Dr. Ramsey is board certified in internal medicine and allergy and immunology. Her professional interests include the treatment of drug allergy and eosinophilic disorders. She also enjoys teaching medical trainees. She is a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the New York State Allergy Society, and the Finger Lakes Allergy Society. In her personal life, her interests include exercise, especially running and horseback riding; and spending time with her husband and two children.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideAsthma Attack Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

Asthma Attack Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

What causes occupational asthma?

Occupational asthma is caused by exposure to particular inhaled chemicals in the workplace that cause the airways to become excessively reactive.

There are many agents that can cause occupational asthma. Inhalations of isocyanates, cereal dust, or flour are currently the most common causes of occupational asthma. Agents that cause occupational asthma are usually divided into two different groups: smaller molecules (low molecular weight chemicals), such as isocyanates used in rubber manufacturing, and larger molecules, typically organic substances such as flour. You can find lists of known agents at http://www.hse.gov.uk/asthma/substances.htm.

What are risk factors for occupational asthma?

A patient's individual characteristics, as well as other factors in the workplace environment play a role in the development of occupational asthma. One of the main risk factors for occupational asthma is atopy. Atopy is a syndrome characterized by sensitivity to allergens that predisposes an individual to develop occupational asthma. People with atopy often have seasonal allergies or hay fever (allergic rhinitis), allergic skin rashes (eczema), and food allergies. An important risk factor for occupational asthma, which fortunately can be eliminated, is cigarette smoking. Scientists have also discovered specific genes involved with the immune system that may be associated with a person's risk of developing occupational asthma in response to specific agents, such as isocyanates and dust from western red cedar trees. However, there is no role for this type of genetic testing in routine clinical practice.

Although the intensity of exposure is important in the development of occupational asthma, it is less clear if it is the amount of the agent, duration of exposure, or frequency of exposures that represents the most important factor. Therefore, for most agents, it is difficult to determine what concentration of agent in the air is considered "safe."

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/1/2016

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