Could your job be affecting your quality of life or your ability to breathe normally? Have you noticed asthmatic symptoms developing as a result of your occupation? As the growing number of asthma patients continue to be diagnosed, some begin wondering what is going on. Are jobs really having an effect on the increase in adult asthma cases?
Adult Asthma is a Global Issue
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, adult onset asthma affects approximately 15 million people in the United States.
There are around 5.4 million people in the UK that have asthma, some of whom suffer as children and some of whom develop the disease in later life.
According to a recent UK study, that has been hailed as ‘remarkable’, researchers were able to identify which jobs were linked with an increased risk of developing asthma as an adult, based on tracking almost 10,000 people born in Britain starting in 1958.
It was found that the workplace had a greater influence on adult-onset asthma than smoking, accounting for one in six cases of the disease compared with one in nine for smoking.
Of the 9,488 people studied, which were tracked for 15 years, 9% had developed asthma by the age of 42, not including those who had it as children.
The team from Imperial College London identified 18 jobs that were linked to an increased risk of adult asthma.
Four of the 18 were cleaning jobs and a further three of which were likely to involve exposure to cleaning products.
Farmers were approximately four times more likely to develop asthma as an adult than office workers, hairdressers were at almost double the risk, and printers at three times the risk.
Besides cleaning products, flour, enzymes, metals and textiles were among materials in the workplace identified in the study as being linked to asthma risk.
The study’s lead author, Dr Rebecca Ghosh of the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London, said: “This study identified 18 occupations that are clearly linked with asthma risk, but there are others that did not show up in our analysis, mainly because they are relatively uncommon.
“Occupational asthma is widely under-recognised by employers, employees and healthcare professionals. Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable ease would be a major step in reducing its incidence.”
Malayka Rahman, Research Analysis and Communications Officer at Asthma UK, said: “This research has highlighted a new group of people, specifically those working in occupations related to cleaning, such as cleaners or home-based personal care workers, who may have developed adult onset asthma due to exposure to chemicals they work with on a daily basis.
“We advise anyone who works in the industries highlighted in this study and who have experienced breathing problems to discuss this with their GP, and we urge healthcare professionals to make sure they consider possible occupational causes in adult onset asthma and tailor their advice to people with asthma accordingly.”
Prof Jon Ayres, Professor of Environmental & Respiratory Medicine, University of Birmingham, said: “This is an important piece of research. We already know that occupational asthma costs many millions of pounds to the UK economy each year. This latest research has identified cleaners as a new and very important at-risk group.”
“The main message from this study is that employers need to pay greater attention to exposures in at-risk groups. Both government and industry need to reconsider how they can best control exposure and reduce adult-onset asthma due to occupation.”
Prof Danny Altmann, Head, Pathogens Immunology and Population Health, Wellcome Trust, said: “This important study gives us new insights into asthma.”
“Asthma research has tended to focus on identifying the major allergens (for example house dust mite proteins, dander from domestic pets, fungal spores), the genetics and, to a lesser extent, the interplay with infection.
“This study reminds us of the many unexplored areas and gaps in our knowledge: few researchers would be able to explain the mechanisms that leave farmers, hairdressers or cleaners more susceptible to adult-onset asthma. However, learning more about these occupational exposures will clearly need to attain higher prominence.”
The study, published in the journal Thorax, was funded by Asthma UK and the Colt Foundation.
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