Risks for Work-Related Asthma

by Michael_Koger

Individuals from many lines of work may suffer from work-related asthma, and the responsible stimuli are numerous as well.

There are many substances and organisms which workers can encounter and, in some cases, will provoke breathing difficulty due to work-related asthma. These include chemicals, dust, mold, animals, and plants. Cigarette smoke, welding fumes, paints, solvents, and cleaning products such as bleach or ammonia may also contribute to airway hyperresponsiveness [2].

Cold air is another possible stimulus for this medical condition. Moreover, glutaraldehyde, calcium oxide, acids, perfumes, and indoor air pollutants can induce symptoms. Other materials may be diisocyanates, seafood, natural rubber latex, enzymes, and anhydrides. Exposure to isocyanates may come from polyurethrane foam, paints, lacquers, ink, varnishes, sealants, finishes, insulation materials, glues, and adhesives [2].

Irritant Chemical Varieties

Agents may be of high or low molecular weight.  For example, low molecular weight compounds include isocyanates, acid anhydrides, and metallic acids.  Examples of high molecular weight materials are enzymes, laboratory animal allergens, and natural rubber latex.  Plant proteins are also in the class of high molecular weight substances [1, 3].

Isocyanates are especially common stimuli for this disease [1, 2, 3].

In any event, there may be airway irritation with or without a latency period.  In other words, the worker encounters the substance and experiences airway compromise immediately or after a time period.  Latency period cases may result from high or low molecular weight materials [1].

Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome

An example of an exposure which occurs without a latency period may be one which leads to reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS).  This is a form of occupational asthma in which the employee inhales a high concentration of the substance and suffers from airway hyperresponsiveness within 12 hours.  Furthermore, the symptoms continue to occur through the lifetime even when the person never had previous problems of this nature.  Irritant-induced asthma is another name for it [1, 2, 3].


Work-related asthma has affected the lives of employees for many centuries.  Education, awareness, and proper safety measures are necessary to identify and reduce its occurrence.


1.  Tan, J. and Bernstein, J.  (2014).  Occupational asthma:  An overview.  Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 14, 431.

2.  United States Department of Labor.  (2014).  Occupational asthma.  Retrieved August 12, 2014. 

3.  University at Albany.  School of Public Health.  (2014).  Work-related asthma:  Recognition and diagnosis.  Retrieved August 12, 2014. 

4.  The photo is a 1939 image of workers in a ceramics factory where workers may encounter exposure to airborne particulates.  Reprinted with permission from Centers for Disease Control/Barbara Jenkins/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 08/12/2014, Michael_Koger
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sandyspider on 08/14/2014

Many people don't think about how they could have gotten it from work. Good job.

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