The most common long term disease in both children and adults in asthma. About 5% of adults and 7-10% of children have asthma with many new people finding out they have asthma each year.
In Canada, occupational asthma is considered the most common occupational lung diseases. It is also one of the most common diseases that goes through the Workers Safety and Insurance Board. There are over 300 chemicals in the workplace that are known to cause occupational asthma. Because this list is still growing it is important to find the causes of work related asthma so that it can be controlled and prevented. Occupational asthma, or work related asthma, is asthma that happens for the first time because of exposure to some type of agent at the work place. The auto par ts, foam and plastic manufacturing industries have the highest rates of work related asthma. It is important to identify this type of asthma to help control the symptoms and prevent it from happening again, or to someone else. It is important to note that people who have asthma before may also have symptoms that get worse because of something at work.
What exactly is asthma?
Asthma is when your small air ways narrow and make is hard to breath. This means that the air ways have become smaller but can return to normal either on their own or with the use of some medications.
Some symptoms include:
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
- With Occupational asthma there may also be nasal irritation
What can cause asthma?
One of the main groups of chemicals that cause occupational asthma in automotive and foam/plastic par tsmanufacturing sectors are isocyanates. Isocyanates are a group of highly reactive chemicals that are used in the automobile industry for production of foam, automotive body parts and paint. Other agents which can cause occupational asthma are anhydrides, metals and metalworking fluids and lubricants.
Workers at Risk
- Spray painters, manufacturers of plastic, rubber and foam
- Plastics and epoxy resins workers
- Welders and metal parts manufacturing and fabricating
- Metal parts manufacturing and fabricating (example: cutting, grinding, drilling, drawing, stamping)
There are a couple of ways that an asthma response starts. It can be the result of an allergy (allergic occupational asthma) or just to a chemical that irritates the airway. Allergic Occupational Asthma is an allergic reaction to something in the workplace. It might be a chemical or material. With this type of asthma the symptoms are worse at work and better when off or at home. Some people may have little or no symptoms when they are off work. Allergies develop over time, may be months or years, they are not an instant response. The term latency period is the time from the first exposure to the development of asthma. Non-allergic occupational asthma or RADS: this type of asthma is caused by a high exposure to a chemical that irritates the airway. This can be from a chemical spill,leak or a fire. This type of asthma usually develops quickly and often symptoms stay for a long period of time. There is no latency period and this type is not an allergic reaction. This type of asthma is also called RADS or Reactive Air ways Dysfunction Syndrome.
A diagnosis of RADS is based on the following conditions:
- Symptoms start within 24 hours of the exposure and last for at least 3 months
- Exposure to gas, smoke, fumes, vapor that is an irritant at high concentrations
- Symptoms begin after a one time exposure
- There is no asthma or breathing symptoms before the exposure
- Symptoms are asthma like and include cough, wheeze and trouble breathing
- There is some airflow problems shown on a pulmonary functions test
- All other lung/breathing related disease has been ruled out.