Managing common asthma triggers in the workplace

asthma triggers

Managing your asthma triggers is one of the best ways to reduce the amount of asthma attacks you experience. Managing triggers in your own home can be quite simple – you have control over most decisions that result in triggers, such as pets and houseplants.

In your office or workplace, you don’t have the same level of control. Some triggers may be unavoidable, as they’re an important part of doing your job. You may also notice your asthma getting worse after starting at a new job.

In this article we have a look at some of the common workplace triggers and how you might be able to manage them:

Common asthma triggers in the workplace

The most common asthma triggers in the workplace are:

  • Foam, plastics, isocyanate paints, epoxy resins, and fumes from manufacturing.
  • Metal fumes or dusts, such as those released during aluminium smelting or welding.
  • Organic material and dust, such as grain dust, flour, wood dust, animal fur, protein, and insects.

People who work on farms, in manufacturing plants, forestry, bakeries, boatbuilding, chemical handling, laboratories, spray-painting, vet clinics, or any industry where they’re regularly exposed to potential triggers above are at particular risk.

If you’re a smoker, you’re at even greater risk of developing occupational asthma, according to the Asthma Foundation.

The problem with identifying workplace triggers

If you’re experiencing an increase in asthma attacks, or you’ve developed asthma for the first time in your life, identifying the triggers is particularly important.

You can develop asthma through an allergic reaction to a substance that’s never given you a problem before, making it difficult to figure out the true cause. Since you can have an allergic reaction several hours after being exposed to a trigger, it can take some time to work backward through your day to identify the cause.

To identify a trigger, make a list of all the substances and processes you use throughout the day. Note when your symptoms worsen, or when they ease off. You may be able to use a peak flow meter to help with this. Over time, a pattern should emerge, and you’ll be able to eliminate several substances until you locate the culprits.

What to do if you identify a trigger in your workplace

If you suspect a substance at your workplace is triggering your asthma, then the first thing you should to is talk to your doctor. They’ll help you confirm if the trigger is impacting your asthma and give you some advice on what to do next.

You’ll need to work with your employer to come up with solutions to manage your asthma triggers. If possible, eliminate the triggers by changing the substance or process to something that doesn’t harm you.

In most cases, elimination won’t be possible. Other options include isolation, where the substance is kept on a certain part of site or used only at a specific time of day, or minimisation, where equipment or processes be altered to reduce your exposure.

You spend several hours a week at work, so if your asthma is bothering you, it makes sense to find any way possible to make work more pleasant. For more information on managing hazards in your workplace, contact Worksafe NZ. Your occupational health nurse or union may also offer useful advice.

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