Dec 1, 2001 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

What Is Work-Related Asthma

Am Fam Physician. 2001 Dec 1;64(11).

First of all, what is asthma?

Asthma is a disease of the lungs. During an asthma attack, you can't get enough air. You feel short of breath. Your chest may feel tight. You may cough and wheeze (make a whistling sound when you breathe).

Asthma attacks can last a few hours or even several days. If your asthma attack is severe, you might have to stay at the hospital for treatment.

People with allergies, such as hayfever or animal allergies, often get asthma. For example, if you are allergic to dogs, you might have an asthma attack if you get near a dog. If something at your workplace gives you an asthma attack, it is called work-related asthma.

Some of the work conditions that can cause asthma attacks are cold temperatures, heavy physical work, dust, chemicals, and smoke. Some people first get allergies to chemicals or dust in the workplace, and then they get asthma later on.

How do I know that I have work-related asthma?

If you get asthma as an adult, it is possible that something in your workplace caused the asthma. These questions might help you and your doctor decide if you have work-related asthma:

  • Do you get asthma attacks at work or when you are doing a certain job at your workplace?

  • Do the attacks happen more often during the hours you are at work? Do they get better when you are away from work or on vacation?

  • Has your asthma gotten worse since you started a new job or moved to a new work area?

  • Do you also get allergy symptoms such as runny or itchy nose, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing or itchy skin when you are at work?

If any of these things are happening to you, you may have work-related asthma or you may be getting allergic to something in the workplace. This kind of allergy sometimes can cause you to get asthma.

How will my doctor find out for sure?

First, your doctor will make sure that you actually have asthma. You might have breathing tests to find out. Then your doctor will decide if something in your workplace might be causing your asthma or making it worse. If you have work-related asthma, your doctor will give you medicine for it and tell you how to prevent asthma attacks.

Where can I learn more about asthma and work-related asthma?

A good source of information about asthma is the Web site of the American Lung Association at http://www.lungusa.org/asthma/. To find out more about work-related asthma, go to this address: http://www.lungusa.org/asthma/astoccasthm.html.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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