You Don't Have to Wheeze at Work
Nearly 156 million Americans have the same thing in common: going to work. Since working adults spend more than half of their lives at work, the workplace becomes like a second home. Unlike at home, you may have less control at work over your exposure to certain irritants and allergens. Out of the 26 million Americans living with asthma, 1 in 12 are adults and some find that their asthma is made worse from exposures to irritants at work.
Does Your Workplace Have These?
Work-related asthma is one of the most frequently reported work-related lung diseases. If you have asthma, exposures in your workplace can expose you to irritants and allergens whether you work indoors or outdoors. Furthermore, workplace irritants often differ from those you encounter at home—and you likely have less control over them. Common workplace lung irritants include these:
- Industrial or wood dusts
- Gases, fumes, and vapors
- Cleaning chemicals
- Scented personal care products like lotions and fragrances
- Vehicle exhaust
- Secondhand smoke
If you are exposed to any of those irritants, they could cause you or your colleagues with asthma to suffer coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, or even worse, a hospital or emergency room care.
Steps to Preventing Asthma Symptoms at Work
Although you may not have control of the irritants in your workplace, you can control your asthma. Here are three steps to prevent asthma symptoms.
Step 1: Avoid exposure to allergens or irritants that cause asthma symptoms.
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent asthma symptoms at work is to identify your triggers that may be causing them. You may need to request special protections from your employer. For example, if you are working in an industrial or construction job, you may request personal protective equipment, such as respirators. Office workers may want to suggest the workplace use safer cleaning products, such as those listed in the Environmental Protection Agency Safer Choice, and provide education and training on how to use cleaning products safely.
Step 2: Get help from your healthcare provider for your breathing problems.
Your doctor will be your advocate for healthy lungs. Using your asthma medicines as instructed by your doctor is another important part of controlling your asthma. When working with your doctor, create an asthma action plan that will help you manage your symptoms and avoid asthma episodes.
Step 3: Report respiratory symptoms and breakdowns in ventilation and other protective equipment to your employer immediately.
Your work equipment may be emitting irritants that worsen your asthma. Report any faulty equipment, including ventilation systems, to your employer to avoid any injury to yourself or your co-workers. Also, be sure to explain that you were working with or near that equipment and its emissions when discussing your lung health with your healthcare provider.
Asthma can be managed so you can live an active and healthy life. The American Lung Association has numerous resources to help you manage your asthma at home and at work.
How Lung Friendly Is Your Workplace Infographic
You can help create a safe and healthier workplace for you and your coworkers. Download our How Lung Friendly is Your Workplace infographic to learn more about how you can help create a lung friendly workplace and share it with your human resources staff.