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Diagnosing and managing occupational asthma

Occupational asthma should always be considered in people with symptoms. Beverley Bostock-Cox explains why and what to do.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition in which symptoms occur in response to triggers such as viruses, pet allergens and pollens. However, for some people the sensitisers that trigger their asthma occur in the work environment, a condition known as occupational asthma (OA).

What is occupational asthma?

According to a report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were over 630 new cases of OA reported in Great Britain in 2003, of which 442 were male workers and 189 were female workers.1 The same report estimates that someone suffering from OA will lose an average of 3.5 to 4.5 working days per year due to symptoms of OA, although in more severe cases this might reach 10 days a year. Interestingly, a more recent study suggests that the number of cases of OA is decreasing: there were only 148 reported cases in 2011. However, it is unclear whether the latest figures are a true reflection of the burden of disease and it is thought that true cases of OA may be 10 times higher than those currently on file.2 Vehicle paint spraying, baking and cleaning are the occupations with the highest annual rates of new cases of OA.

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