Work-Related Asthma Takes a Heavy Toll

In 9% of US adults with asthma who’ve ever been employed, the illness is work-related, according to a new study. (Image: Nigel Carse/

Nearly 1 in 10 US adults with asthma who’ve ever worked full or part time can chalk up at least some of their symptoms to conditions at work, according to a new federal study.

In today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that in 9% of adults with asthma, the illness is work-related. That statistic represents 1.4 million adult asthma cases that could be prevented annually, the researchers wrote.

The findings are based on data collected between 2006 and 2009 from participants in 38 states and the District of Columbia for the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the Asthma Call-Back Survey, both sponsored by the CDC.

In addition to estimating the overall prevalence of work-related asthma, the data also show that blacks and workers aged 45 to 64 years were disproportionately affected. Florida had the highest work-related asthma prevalence—14.1% of adults with asthma who’ve ever been employed—and Arizona had the lowest, 4.8%.

The study offered examples in the health care and detergent industries to illustrate steps that can reduce occupational exposures that may cause or worsen asthma symptoms. In the early 1990s, high rates of work-related asthma among health professionals were linked with powdered, nonrubber latex gloves. Changing the types of gloves used to reduce the powder and nonrubber latex protein content reduced the incidence rates. Also, detergent production processes that reduced exposures by encapsulating detergent enzymes also lowered the prevalence of occupational asthma.

Work-related asthma prevalence isn’t linked with specific industries or occupations in the study. But the authors said the CDC will collect that information next year as part of the BRFSS. Knowing which work settings have the highest prevalence can help government agencies, health professionals, employers, and workers develop effective intervention and prevention efforts.

Categories: Asthma, Public Health