Occupational asthma is asthma (whether a new diagnosis or recurrence of previously dormant asthma) caused by exposure to an agent at the workplace. Exposure to an agent at work may also exacerbate an existing asthma condition. The agent may be a chemical, plant or animal organism, metal or wood dust, chemical or irritant such as a irritant gas, aerosol, vapor or smoke. Where a person has an exposure to a high concentration of an irritant they may develop an acute reaction including reactive airways dysfunction syndrome.
The occupations most at risk include handlers (e.g. acrylate), animal handlers and veterinarians (animal proteins), bakers and millers (cereal grains), carpet makers (gums), electronics workers (soldering resin), forest workers, carpenters and cabinetmakers (wood dust), hairdressers (e.g. persulfate), health care workers (latex and chemicals such as glutaraldehyde ), cleaners (e.g. chloramine-T), pharmaceutical workers (drugs, enzymes), seafood processors, shellac handlers (e.g. amines), solderers and refiners (metals), spray painters, insulation installers, plastics and foam industry workers (e.g. diisocyanates), textile workers (dyes) and users of plastics and epoxy resins.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough, sputum production and wheezing. Some patients may also develop upper airway symptoms such as itchy eyes, tearing, sneezing, nasal congestion and runny nose.