Treating Work-related Asthma
The two most important factors for managing work-related asthma are avoiding environmental triggers and medically controlling clinical symptoms.
- Reduce occupational and environmental exposures to allergens, irritants, and physical conditions known to worsen asthma symptoms.
- If relevant, initiate a smoking cessation program. Smoking has been associated with difficulty controlling asthma.
- Consider referring to a pulmonary, allergy, or occupational medicine specialist to further test and identify work-related exposures.
Work Modification or Restrictions
- Eliminating exposures is the best approach for workers with work-related asthma. Reducing exposures by using workplace controls may also benefit workers.
- For some workers, an individualized management plan is required. This depends on medical findings and response to reducing allergens and irritants. An example of an individual management plan includes assigning an affected employee to a different work location away from exposures or triggers.
The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) Expert Panel Report provides a stepwise approach to pharmacologic therapy. Immunizations such as pneumococcal and annual influenza vaccines are recommended.
- Contact employee/occupational health or an industrial hygiene specialist to conduct workplace assessments for potential allergens, irritants, and harmful physical conditions.
- Communicate with employers and representatives from workers’ compensation regarding relevant sensitizers. The patient and employer need to be informed that continued exposure to the sensitizer could lead to deterioration of asthmatic symptoms.
- Discuss NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program with patients. This program offers free and confidential assistance with identifying worksite asthma triggers.
- Review copies of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS). These sheets can help identify potential work-related asthma triggers. The employer should be able to provide copies. The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics has a tool to help healthcare providers determine if substances are known asthmagens.