Two brand-new studies out in January have found that as many as 1 in 6 cases of asthma in adults could be linked to work-related risks.
The first study, which looked at an international population of 13,000 people found that most of these high-risk occupations involved chemical exposure. Among the list:
- spray painters
- health care workers
- hair stylists
Also on the list: food and tobacco industry workers, who are exposed to high levels of plant proteins.
The second study, which tracked asthma in around 95,000 Britons, found similar results and identified 18 jobs that were linked with asthma, at least seven of which involved exposure to cleaning products. Farmers and print workers were also at risk. Similar to the rate found in the first study, the British researchers found that around 16% of asthma cases were due to occupational hazards.
These studies confirm several earlier studies that saw similar patterns in farmers, hairdressers, and print workers. Also, a 2005 study that recruited patients from chest clinics concluded that around 10% of people with adult-onset asthma found that their asthma is worse at work.
What’s unfortunate about all these cases in that in most instances, work-related asthma is preventable!
However, addressing the jobs that cause asthma is not as easy as it seems.
For one, occupational asthma isn’t easily-recognized by healthcare workers or employers. Doctors don’t often ask questions about their patients’ jobs or what they are exposed to at work. This is especially worrying because the earlier the association is caught, the easier it is to treat and even cure.
Another problem is deciding how to reduce exposure to chemicals or other agents. Many people can reduce their risk by wearing masks, but this may be uncomfortable for food services workers or hairstylists who need to interact with clients and customers daily. In drastic cases, the only recourse may be to leave the job, but very few people are willing to make such a dramatic change.
Employers are often in a better position to take steps to protect their workers, such as making sure to meet federal health and safety guidelines; creating standards (such as wearing protective equipment) that reduce or eliminate exposure; establishing surveillance programs that help identify early symptoms of asthma; training workers on workplace hazards; and eliminating smoking by offering benefits or cessation programs. Another good way to prevent occupational hazards is by installing a carbon air cleaning system to remove airborne contaminants (such as gas fumes in a print shop or salon). Industrial carbon filters have the capacity to remove most of these particulates by recirculating the air.
Anyone who works in a risky environment should monitor their health and seek help from a physician as soon as breathing problems or respiratory symptoms start. They should also be vigilant and report any safety breaches to their employers.
More educational asthma articles.
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