Overview of Industrial and Occupational Asthma

These can expose us to chemical fumes and dusts which can make asthma worse, particularly when glues, paints and plastics are involved. This can create asthma in people who were not previously affected (a condition known as occupational asthma), and also make existing asthma attacks worse. You should look out for the following clues:

  • Your asthma gets worse during the working week, although symptoms may occur after work, or at night.
  • After several days away from work, or on holiday, you notice an improvement.

You can work in a job for months or years before occupational asthma develops.

The following industries use substances which may provoke occupational asthma:

  • Platinum refining: platinum salts.
  • Polyurethane foam manufacture, paint spraying (where it involves 2-part polyurethane paints): isocyanates.
  • Paint manufacture, processes using 2-part epoxy resin paints and adhesives: epoxy resin curing agents and hardening agents including phthalic anhydride, tetrachlorophtalic anhydride, trimellitic anhydride or triethylenetetramine.
  • Detergent industry: proteolytic enzymes
  • Textile manufacture: reactive dyes.
  • Carpentry, joinery, papermilling, sawmilling: wood dusts, e.g. cedar and mahogany.
  • Manufacture and administration (e.g. nurses): isphagula dust (a component of bulk laxatives).
  • Merchant navy, laboratories, felt making: castor bean dust.
  • Preparation of ipecacuanha tablets: ipecacuanha.
  • Expanded foam plastic manufacture: the blowing agent azodicarbonamide.
  • Hospitals, histology, electron microscopy, leather tanning, cooling towers: glutaraldehyde.
  • Hairdressing: persulphate salts and henna.
  • Laboratories, pest control, fruit cultivation: insects, other anthropods and their larvae.
  • Food processing: crustaceans or fish or their products, soya bean, tea dust, green coffee dust.
  • Drug manufacture: antibiotics, cimetidine
  • Welding: fumes from the welding of stainless steel.

As you can see, these allergens do not just affect a few unlucky individuals involved in obscure manufacturing processes. Very large numbers of people are exposed to them.

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