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Occupational Asthma

Occupational Asthma

If you have asthma symptoms at work that get better away from work, make an appointment with your health care provider promptly.

If you have occupational asthma, you should have an action plan worked out in advance with your health care provider. This plan should include instructions on what to do when an asthma attack occurs, when to call the health care provider, and when to go to a hospital emergency department.

Although asthma is a reversible disease, and treatments are available, people can die from a severe asthma attack.

  • If you are having an asthma attack and have severe shortness of breath or are unable to reach your health care provider in a short period of time, you must go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital. Have a friend or family member drive. If you are alone, call 911 immediately for emergency medical transport.
Self-Care at Home

Work with your health care provider to develop an action plan. Follow your treatment plan closely to avoid asthma attacks. If you do have an asthma attack, the action plan will help you control the attack and make the decision about when to seek medical care.

Since occupational asthma is a chronic disease, you will probably require treatment for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of your life. The best way to improve your condition and live your life on your terms is to learn all you can about your asthma and what you can do to make it better.

  • Become a partner with your health care provider and his or her support staff. Use the resources they can offer—information, education, and expertise—to help yourself.
  • Follow the treatment recommendations of your health care provider. Understand your treatment. If you are taking medications, know what each drug does and how it is used.
  • See your health care provider as scheduled.
  • Promptly report any changes or worsening of your symptoms.
  • Report any side effects you are having with your medications.

Precautions that may help reduce your chance of having an asthma attack include the following:

  • Avoid the trigger. In many cases, this doesn't mean you have to quit your job or change your occupation, although you may want to consider that. Most employers will work with you to reduce or remove your exposure to the trigger in the workplace.
  • Take your medications as directed.
  • If you smoke, quit.

If you should have an asthma attack, move to the next step of your action plan. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Take only the medications your health care provider has prescribed for your asthma. Take them as directed.
  • If the medication is not working, do not take more than you have been directed to take. Overusing asthma medications can be dangerous.
  • Do not take cough medicine. These medicines do not help asthma and may cause unwanted side effects.
  • Do not use nonprescription inhalers. These contain a very short-acting inhaler that may not last long enough to relieve an asthma attack and may cause unwanted side effects.
  • These contain a very shorting acting inhaler that may not last long enough to relieve an asthma attack and may cause unwanted side effects.
  • Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can cause asthma to worsen in certain individuals. These medications should not be taken without the advice of your health care provider.
  • Do not take any nonprescription preparations, herbs, or supplements, even if they are completely "natural," without talking to your health care provider first. Some of these may have unwanted side effects or interfere with your medications.
  • Be prepared to go on to the next step of your action plan if necessary.

If you think your medication is not working, let your health care provider know right away.

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Follow-up

Asthma is a long-term disease, but it can be managed. Your active involvement in treating this disease is vitally important.

  • Take your prescribed medication(s) as directed.
  • See your health care provider regularly according to the recommended schedule.
  • By following these steps, you can help minimize the frequency and severity of your asthma attacks.

At your follow-up visits, your health care provider will review how you have been doing.

  • He or she will ask you about frequency and severity of attacks, use of rescue medications, and peak flow measurements.
  • Lung functions tests will be done to see how your lungs are responding to your treatment.
  • This is a good time to discuss medication side effects or any problems you are having with your treatment.
Prevention

Treatment in occupational asthma is focused on preventing or minimizing asthma attacks. The main strategy for doing this is reducing or stopping exposure to the trigger.

  • Work with your employer to "clean up" the workplace.
  • You or your health care provider should be able to arrange for measurement of air quality in the workplace.
  • Your employer should provide protective gear, such as masks or respirators, to avoid exposure to the trigger.
  • Careless use or spills of respiratory irritants, inappropriate ventilation, and improper protective gear contribute to the occurrence of asthma in the workplace. These problems can be remedied.
  • If these measures don't reduce your symptoms, talk to your employer about retraining for a different position that would not involve exposure to your trigger.
Outlook

Most people with occupational asthma are able to control their condition if they work together with a health care provider and follow their treatment regimen carefully.

People who do not seek medical care or do not follow an appropriate treatment plan are likely to experience worsening of their asthma and deterioration in their ability to function normally.

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