By definition, Occupational asthma is airway obstruction due to exposure in the workplace. When talking of work-related asthma, it could be work aggravated asthma or Occupational asthma caused by work. Occupational asthma can further be divided into: –
- Sensitizer/allergen-induced Occupational asthma
- Irritant induced occupational asthma
Both categories of Asthma present with the same symptoms, i.e. tightness in the chest, inflamed eyes, and conjunctivitis wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Employees working in manufacturing industries especially those that use toxic chemical substances, bakers, drug manufacturing industries, farmers, laboratory workers, and plastic industry workers.
The most common triggers are wood dust, animal dander, grain dust, and chemicals. They cause the airway to swell and narrow making it difficult to breathe. The employer’s duty to do proper training should be done before sensitizing the employees on the dangers of the substances they will be using daily. Annual health checks are mandatory to diagnose and treat any workers at risk of asthma as it takes a week, sometimes years to develop asthma from the initial exposure.
Properly fitted masks and respirators should be mandatory for all employees working in industries where they’re constantly exposed to fumes, dust, pollen, and tobacco. Extremely harmful chemicals can be substituted for less harmful and more tolerable ones.
The law protects employees working in such ’’toxic’’ environments under the Occupational safety and health act. Employers have a duty to ensure all people’s safety by educating, proper training, providing supervision and proper instructions, and involving everyone when reviewing safety measures at the workplace.
The employer should report all workplace accidents and injuries incurred on duty within 24 hours. The Physician who attends to the employee and suspects work-related asthma should report within 7 days unless such an incidence has been reported before. Employees also have a part to play. They should not participate in dangerous dealings which can be a danger to them and others. They should also adhere to the measures put in place to protect them from accidents and report when necessary.
Finally, Occupational asthma can be treated the same way as normal asthma. Bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories are used. However, identifying the trigger and reducing exposure is a major part of maintaining work-related asthma. Most people live long and healthy lives as long as they keep track of their health and take steps to prevent; and when inevitable, prepare for attacks. Something as simple as checking the weather forecast could help you mitigate a possible attack.
Ponea Health offers Doctor On-Call Services from the comfort of your home. Call or Whatsapp us 24/7 on +254 111 013 900.
By Roselyne Wanja – Clinical Triage.