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Controlling Asthma Triggers at Work

Many people with asthma have symptoms from triggers in the workplace. This is called occupational asthma. The triggers may be irritants or allergens. Irritants include chemicals, fumes, and gases. Allergens include dust and mold. The symptoms of asthma are trouble breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. These symptoms may:

  • Happen right after exposure to a trigger

  • Take a while to develop

  • Lessen or go away when you are not at work

  • Go away completely on weekends or when you are on vacation

  • Get worse over time, even when you are not at work

People working on the floor of an industrial plant

Triggers at work may be from many different things, including:

  • Irritants like fumes, gases, smoke, chemicals, and metals

  • Allergens like animal dander, dust, or mold

  • Work environments like manufacturing and processing (upholstery, paints, packaging, and metals), textiles, farming, veterinary medicine, and food production

Avoiding triggers in the workplace

Avoiding triggers is the best prevention against asthma. This is true wherever triggers are found. If you are having a lot of asthma symptoms at work, you may want to talk with your manager.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may also provide some assistance and guidance to both you and your employer.  You can get information at the ADA Information Line:

  • 800-514-0301 (Voice)

  • 800-514-0383 (TTY)

You can talk about the possibility of changing the work processes to lessen your exposure to irritants. You may also try to make changes to your schedule to lessen your exposure. For example, you might work in a different part of the facility or in another building.

Or you might work different hours when less irritants are present. You might also work in a different position within the same company.

You might also want to:

  • Make sure your workplace is as safe as possible to prevent illness and injury

  • Make sure the workplace is nonsmoking and that rules are followed

  • Learn as much as you can about the irritants and allergens at work

  • Visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) websites for more information that can help

When you can’t control triggers

If changes at work and treatment aren’t helping you, you may want to think about changing jobs. Although this may be very difficult, it may be the only way for you to be symptom-free. Before making such a major change, however, be sure to research all your options. Access the federal government sources listed above.

With your healthcare provider you can:

  • Find out if something at work is causing your symptoms or making them worse

  • Figure out how to stay away from work-related triggers, if possible

  • Keep track of your asthma symptoms

  • Figure out which medicines work best for you