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Symptoms and Signs of Occupational Asthma

Doctor's Notes on Occupational Asthma

Asthma is a chronic (ongoing, long-term) inflammation of the breathing passages of the lungs that irritates the airways, causing breathing problems. The inflammatory reaction in asthma is triggered by external factors or specific situations and exposure to a trigger worsens inflammation and results in asthma symptoms. Occupational asthma is caused by exposure to a trigger in the workplace. Common triggers include contaminants in the air, such as smoke, chemicals, vapors (gases), fumes, dust, or other particles; respiratory infections, such as colds and flu (viruses); allergens in the air, such as molds, animal dander, and pollen; temperature or humidity extremes; and emotional excitement or stress.

Symptoms for people with occupational asthma occur a short time after beginning work and subside after leaving work. For some people, symptoms worsen gradually during the workweek, go away over the weekend, and return when the new work week starts. Symptoms of occupational asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, chest pain, prolonged shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. Allergy symptoms that occur at work but improve away from work may be a sign there are irritants in the air that could provoke asthma symptoms. Allergic symptoms include itchy, burning, or watery eyes; itchy or stuffy nose, sneezing; or itchy, red, or irritated skin.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/22/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.