Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(11):online-only-

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 To find out more about work-related asthma, go to this address:

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.