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The second of May is World Asthma Day, an opportunity to raise awareness about how workplace exposures to certain chemicals, fumes or gases can cause or exacerbate this chronic lung condition. 

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition in which the airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness or pain
  • wheezing when exhaling
  • trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing
  • coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus

What is occupational asthma?

Occupational asthma is a type of asthma that includes both asthma caused by work (work-related asthma) and asthma exacerbated by work (work-exacerbated asthma). Research studies have estimated that up to 25% of adults have work-related asthma, and 15% of adult-onset asthma may be caused by hazardous occupational exposures.

What causes work-related asthma and/or work-exacerbated asthma?

Over 360 compounds/processes have been described as causes of work-related asthma or work-exacerbated asthma, including diesel fumes, wood dust, flour, isocyanates, latex, animal proteins, metals, adhesives, coffee bean dust, soybean dust, mould, milk powder, egg powder, wheat, dyes, smoke and various chemicals. 

At risk occupations

Some of the most high-risk occupations for work-related asthma and/or work-exacerbated asthma include:

  • bakers
  • pastry makers
  • food processors
  • spray painters
  • hairdressers
  • woodworkers
  • cleaners
  • farmers
  • animal handlers
  • veterinarians
  • insulation installers
  • plastics and foam industry workers
  • metal workers
  • textile workers
  • shellac handlers
  • laboratory technicians
  • welders

What should I do if I have been exposed at work?

If you have worked somewhere with exposure to compounds such as flour dust, wood dust, metal dust, latex, animal proteins or mould and are concerned that you might be at risk of work-related or work-exacerbated asthma, see your GP. You must also inform them of your occupation and exposure levels, so they have all the information. Your GP can guide you on the need for ongoing monitoring, depending on your specific circumstances.

Related article: For tips on how to prepare for your GP consultation, read Three things to tell your doctor.

Why you might need legal advice

If you have been diagnosed with asthma or your asthma has exacerbated, and you have a history of work exposure to any of the compounds listed above, or you work in a high-risk occupation, it is essential to get legal advice to help you understand your rights and options.

Learn more about our work in workplace disease compensation

Our dedicated workplace disease lawyers have significant experience in helping clients get compensation for occupational diseases caused by asbestos, silicadust exposure and more. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

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