Examiner.com: Many workers fear losing their jobs if they talk about their work-related asthma

Many U.S. workers do not bring up concerns about occupational asthma at their doctor’s office because the workers fear that their lives or type of work may need to change, says a study by American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology(ACAAI). The research was announced on Feb. 3, 2015, and was published in the "Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," the scientific publication of the ACAAI.

Doctors also do not bring up the topic of work-related asthma with their patients. Only 15 percent of asthmatic employed adults talked to their doctor about the effects that their workplace may have on their asthma, even though 46 percent of the workers had asthma that could be work-related. Many people believe that nothing can be done to remedy their situation. Researchers based these findings on data on more than 50,000 employed adults with asthma in 40 states and the District of Columbia who participated in telephone interviews as part of the Asthma Call-back Survey between 2005 and 2010.

“Work-related asthma is under-diagnosed and under-recognized,” said Jacek Mazurek, MD, MS, PhD, Public Health Surveillance Team Leader at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and lead author of the study. “A thorough occupational history is critical to first establishing a diagnosis of work-related asthma, and then putting measures in place to prevent further exposure, or to treat it.”

Doctors can ask two questions to determine whether asthma is workplace-related:

  1. Are there airborne conditions at work that cause you to have shortness of breath, cough, or wheeze?
  2. Do your asthma symptoms improve when away from work such as on vacation or on weekends?

“Hundreds of different workplace airborne exposures have been identified to cause or aggravate asthma,” said allergist Mark S. Dykewicz, MD. “Problem exposures may include chemicals, dusts, fumes, insects and animals that are encountered not only in factories, but also farms, offices, medical and research settings and offices. If someone already has asthma, it can be worsened by airborne substances at work.”

The ACAAI recommends that patients see a board-certified allergist who can perform allergy tests, identify triggers, and provide a personalized asthma management plan. The ACAAI handbook “Asthma Management and the Allergist: Better Outcomes at Lower Cost” says that patients with moderate to severe asthma who were treated by an allergist were much less likely to be hospitalized, visit emergency departments, or to miss days at work. More information about asthma is available on the ACAAI website.