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Q:
At work—and after work—I’m finding it hard to breathe. Is asthma an occupational illness?

A:

Asthma is a respiratory disease that limits the breathing ability of nearly 30 million people nationwide. The disease causes inflammation and excess mucus production in the bronchial airways. As a result, the airways narrow and prevent sufficient airflow to and from the lungs. Some people are born with asthma, while others acquire it as a result of exposure to allergens and irritants. In some cases, the condition can develop as a direct consequence of poor workplace environments. This type of asthma is referred to as occupational asthma.

What Is Occupational Asthma?

Approximately 15 percent of asthma cases in the United States are associated with occupational factors: something present at the worker’s job that is causing his lungs to become irritated and inflamed. Over 11 million workers across the country are subject to this disease as a result of common workplace triggers, including chemical fumes, gases, sawdust, wood dust, grain dust, animal dander, powders, fungi, and pollen.

All of these irritants, when inhaled, can collect in the lungs and airways causing chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The allergic response will usually occur after being exposed to a specific substance for a long period of time, and your body labels it as a threat. However, immediate reactions or “attacks” can occur without warning in the presence of a trigger irritant.

Symptoms of Occupational Asthma

The symptoms of occupational asthma are the same as “regular” asthma and occur in response to tightening airways. Reactions may also worsen at night, during physical activity, or as a result of breathing air that has drastically changed temperatures (warm to cold, or cold to warm). These symptoms include:

  • Wheezing. When your airways narrow due to inflammation, the air that does manage to get through can cause a whistling effect. This noise is referred to as wheezing.
  • Heavy breathing and excessive coughing. As an attempt to compensate for the decreased oxygen, you may need to take more frequent and deeper breaths to fill your lungs. If mucus is present within the airways, your body may attempt to expel the phlegm by involuntarily coughing to force the fluid to move.
  • Tightening of the chest. As your lungs and airways fight to inhale and exhale, they can put pressure on the inside of your chest, making it feel tight.
  • Fainting, headaches, or light-headedness. If you’re unable to inhale enough oxygen for your body, or your attempts to breathe lead to hyperventilation, you could develop hypoxia. This lack of oxygen to the brain can cause severe headaches and light-headedness, and could even cause you to lose consciousness.

Pursuing an Asthma-Related Workers’ Compensation Claim

Though occupational asthma symptoms can vary, signs that your breathing problems are work-related include the following:

  • Your asthma gets worse as the work week progresses but then disappears on the weekend or when you go on vacation.
  • Your symptoms start as soon as you’re exposed to the asthma-inducing substance at work.
  • Your symptoms occur both at work and away from work.

If you believe that your asthma is indeed occupational, you may be eligible to pursue a workers’ compensation claim. However, filing this type of claim can be tricky, and may require a certain level of skill to prove your condition originated or worsens as a direct result of your job. This is where the law office of Steve Lee, P.C., can help.

With over 40 years of experience protecting injured workers’ rights, attorney Steve Lee has the resources and drive to help you secure the evidence you need to pursue your claim. Even if you have been working for years in a specific job without any signs of asthma until now, together, you may still have a case. Contact our office today for a complimentary case evaluation to explore your employee options and rights. Remember, with Steve Lee working for you, you can breathe a little easier, so call now!

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