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The danger of developing asthma at work

Asthma is a terribly frustrating and dangerous condition where the airways in the victim's lungs will suddenly seize up, leaving him or her unable to take another good breath. Most people think that it's something you're either born with or not.

That's far from the truth, however. Sufferers can actually acquire the disease at any age. Asthma is frequently acquired after exposure to toxic fumes and other irritants at work. In fact, it's considered to be the number one work-related type of lung disorder in many industrialized nations. In the United States alone, around 15 percent of asthma cases are related to workplace exposure.

The more you are exposed to chemicals, solvents, gases or dust, the more likely you are to develop asthma from the exposure. The precise triggering mechanism is unknown, but people with a genetic predisposition to the disorder are at an enhanced risk of developing the disease.

You're also more likely to get asthma again if you had it when you were younger but outgrew it. However, people who have never had the disorder and without any family history of asthma can still the disease under the right conditions.

Some of the most common victims of workplace asthma include:

  • Factory workers who handle soap or detergent
  • Healthcare workers who use powdered gloves
  • Bakers who breathe in a lot of flour dust
  • Painters who breathe in a lot of paint fumes
  • Factory employees who work with plastics or rubber
  • People who work with insulation (either manufacturing or installation)
  • Agricultural workers who are frequently exposed to pesticides

Many people develop asthma so suddenly that they mistakenly believe they have bronchitis. It's only when the condition starts to come and go, especially with repeated exposure to the same triggering substance, that their doctors realize they have asthma.

Poor management of asthma can lead to permanent lung damage or even death. That's why it's important to seek medical help if you develop persistent breathing problems or a cough that seems to keep returning at work.

If you develop asthma, it may become impossible for you to keep working your current job. However, like any other victim of workplace illness, you may be able to seek compensation, which can help you get back on your feet or provide a safety net for your family. Consider exploring all your legal options if you become a victim of workplace asthma.

Source: AAAAI, "Occupational Asthma," accessed Feb. 21, 2018

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