Are you allergic to work?

So you have coughing fits at work? Or difficulty taking a deep breath? There is a condition commonly known as “occupational asthma” that is caused by being exposed to irritants in the form of vapors, fumes, gases, particles, or allergens like dust or mold in the workplace. It is really just a reaction to these irritants, but should still be taken quite seriously. It is more likely to develop if you have a family history of allergies, especially to certain substances like latex, animals and flour. In addition, cigarette smoking increases the likelihood of developing “occupational asthma”.

At work, you may notice symptoms right after inhaling some kind of irritant or allergen, or it may take a few days Working during illnessor weeks of constant exposure as your body creates an immune response. You may feel wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, eye irritation, and/or a stuffy or runny nose. If these are from something in your workplace, you will notice an improvement after you leave work.

The most common irritants and allergens include:

1. Chemical fumes like those in certain manufacturing and processing plants.

2. Animal dander, mites or airborne fungi. Veterinarians and those who work around animals are at risk.

3. Soybeans or crop dust. Farmers who grow soybeans and those who process soybeans are at risk. Farmers are also at risk for fumes from pesticides and fertilizers.

4. Flour can cause what is called baker’s asthma and can affect anyone working in a kitchen or food-processing job.

If you think you might be experiencing “occupational asthma”, you may notice that you have no symptoms when you are away from work, on the weekends, or while on vacation. In addition, the longer you work around these chemicals or irritants, you may notice that symptoms may become more persistent, even when away from work. You should call your doctor and be sure to provide a workplace history and a log of your symptoms with what you’ve been exposed to (a sort of diary). There are many treatments and prescription medications available for these symptoms, including some new ones that have a great success rate. Check with your doctor and pharmacist for what will work best for you. And remember that although you might be allergic to an irritant at work, you probably still have to go, so getting treatment is the best option.

Be Well, Be Wise,


Dr. Rebecca Wise

Wise Words…. is a general medical information column from Dr Rebecca Wise. Dr. Wise has a master’s degree in education as well as her doctorate in pharmacy. She is an Ambulatory Care Clinical Pharmacist and Educator in Erie, PA.

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