Occupational Asthma

  • Medical Author: Irina Petrache, MD
  • Medical Author: Christopher James Huffer, MD
  • 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.

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What is the treatment for occupational asthma?

The mainstay of treatment for occupational asthma is removal from the exposure. It's important that occupational asthma be diagnosed and the patient avoids further exposure, because most patients with occupational asthma will get worse over time if they remain exposed. This often means changing jobs or changing the particular duty at the workplace.

Occupational asthma can be treated the same as regular asthma, with inhaled medicines called bronchodilators that open (dilate) the airways as well as inhaled anti-inflammatory medicines (glucocorticoids). However, the most important intervention is to avoid any further exposure.

Respiratory masks can help reduce the amount of agent that reaches your airway but do not prevent symptoms of occupational asthma.

What are complications of occupational asthma?

Over time, the symptoms will become worse if the patient continues to be exposed to the offending agent. After a person becomes sensitized, even very small amounts of the offending agent are capable of triggering significant airway constriction and shortness of breath. The airway constriction (bronchospasm) can be life-threatening if severe and untreated and should prompt quick medical evaluation.

After avoiding any further exposure, most patients will have improvement in their asthma over a span of months to years, but it is rare that occupational asthma will completely go away. People who were exposed to lower levels of an offending agent for shorter periods of time are more likely to experience eventual improvement in their asthma.

Can occupational asthma be prevented?

Occupational asthma can be prevented by monitoring levels of exposure in the workplace, which may help employees from becoming sensitized to the agent. Many potential agents can be monitored continuously. Close monitoring of employee symptoms and prompt removal from the environment once symptoms arise will help prevent occupational asthma complications and maybe reduce its severity. All smokers are advised to quit smoking, and this may help prevent the development of occupational asthma.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015

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