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Your job could be the cause of your breathing problems

Do you find yourself coughing and wheezing when you are at work? Do you also suffer breathing difficulty or tightness in your chest? If you experience none of these symptoms over weekends or when you are working in other areas at your job, you could have work-related asthma.

Occupational asthma is a lung disease caused by exposure to specific substances at work, furthermore, it can exacerbate an existing asthma condition. Exposure can occur by both skin contact and inhalation of irritants, and symptoms may appear immediately or after several hours. You could suffer an allergic reaction, an irritant reaction or an asthma attack that results from a buildup of chemicals in the lungs.

Substances that could trigger work-related asthma

Many industries in California use hazardous substances, and the following are just some that could cause occupational asthma or worsen an existing asthma problem:

  • Metals: Chromium, platinum, soldering fumes and nickel sulfate
  • Chemicals: Lacquer, shellac, adhesives, epoxy resins, plastics, rubber and foam, carpeting, detergent enzymes, textile dyes and insulation
  • Textile products: Dust from cotton, hemp and flax
  • Plant material: Green coffee beans, grains and a papaya extract called papain
  • Animals: Hair, feathers and dander

Examples of work-related asthma

Health care workers could develop allergies to latex and the powdered proteins present in the inner linings of the surgical gloves they have to wear. Exposure to substances such as ammonia can cause the development of asthma symptoms in workers in the chemical industry. This is an irritant rather than an allergic reaction.

Prevention

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines for acceptable exposure levels to known asthma-causing substances, and the agency expects employers to follow the rules to limit or prevent exposure to their employees. Apart from seeking a different job, your only option is to limit exposure. Your employer might assist by finding a less hazardous area in which you can work. It is also essential to seek medical attention and get the appropriate medication. However, even with the necessary medication, exposure can continue to cause problems.

How will you deal with the financial consequences?

Occupational asthma can be a debilitating disease that might lead to lost work hours, and if it is left untreated, it may ultimately result in an asthma attack that could be fatal. If you are concerned about the costs of medical examinations and treatment, you might find comfort in learning that the California workers' compensation insurance program will pay for all your medical expenses. You might also be eligible for a wage-replacement package, and resources are available to assist with the legalities of benefits claims.

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