Occupational asthma and some important things you should know to prevent this condition at your workplace

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Dr Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici is Diagnostic Radiographer and Medical Doctor

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease, which is characterised by a reversible airflow obstruction as a result of swelling and increased contractibility of the smooth muscles surrounding the small airways.

The typical symptoms of asthma may include recurrent episodes of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Sputum may also be produced. Such symptoms are usually worse at night or early in the morning before heading to work, in response to strenuous physical activity or exposure to cold weather, especially during winter time.

The cause of asthma is not yet known, however, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to be major contributors in the manifestation of this common disease. Smoking is also associated with a greater risk of asthma-like symptoms; hence it is recommended that it is avoided. Psychological stress attributable to one’s personal or work life, may also be a causative factor, for stress alters the immune system and thus increases the airway inflammatory response to allergens and irritants.

It is important for employers to be aware that asthma attacks can generally be prevented if the sufferers avoid exposure to any potential allergens and irritants, which may include air pollution, tobacco smoke, animal dander, dust mites, pollen, sulfite-containing foods, as well as  strong chemicals such as perfumes, spray paint, latex and aldehydes. The right personal protective equipment (PPE) should also be worn according to defined health and safety protocols. Should trigger-avoidance be insufficient, the use of regular, prescribed medication is advised.

There are several high risk positions that are more likely to trigger occupational asthma. These may include:

The treatment of asthma varies in different individuals, depending on their age groups, the severity of their condition, as well as the frequency of asthmatic symptoms. Acute asthma attacks are usually treated with medications such as bronchodilators or corticosteroids. These drugs can be administered orally in the form of dissolved tablets, or else via a metered-dose inhaler, coupled with an asthma spacer.

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