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Asthma is a chronic (lifelong) inflammatory lung disease that makes it harder to move air in and out of your lungs. When exposed to certain environmental triggers such as pet dander, smoke, poor air quality, certain medications and more, the lungs become more inflamed, leading to symptoms such as increased mucus production, tightening of the airway, bronchospasms, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. While such such sudden episodes ("asthma attacks") can be life-threatening, most asthma is controllable through lifestyle modifications and medications. While there is no cure, most patients live normal healthy lives.

Occupational asthma, a form of asthma, is a lung disease in which the airways overreact to dusts, vapors, gases, or fumes that exist in the workplace. Symptoms include wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and shortness of breath.

Additional Info

Hundreds of different substances in the workplace can cause occupational asthma. These can be broken down into two basic classes.

  1. Simple irritants that aggravate the lungs and respiratory system directly. Examples incude dust, fumes, smoke, and certain chemical substances such as acid vapors. Reactive Airway Syndrome occurs when chronic (repeated) exposure to these irritants causes the lung surfaces to become increasingly sensitive.

  2. Substances which evoke an allergic (immune) response. Examples include inhaled material that contains proteins such as feathers, hair, plant materials (think pollen). Certain chemicals are sensitizers that cause your body to react to even minute amounts of that or other chemicals.

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While occupationally-related asthma is usually reversible, chronic exposure to an irritant can result in permanent lung damage. The worker may become generally asthmatic, reacting to molds, allergens, cigarette smoke, dust mites, pet dander etc.

According to OSHA, 11 million US workers in a wide range of industries and occupations are exposed to at least one of the numerous agents known to be associated with occupational asthma. They estimated that occupational factors are associated with up to 15 percent of disabling asthma cases in the United States. See the American Lung Association link and others below for specific examples and further information.

Section 11 (toxicological information) of a Safety Data Sheet will explain the potential health effects of that material. The sheet will also explain the engineering controls as well as personal protective equipment that you can use to protect yourself from such occupational hazards.

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Further Reading

See also: dust, emphysema, respiratory, sensitizer.

Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.

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