20 Percent of Asthma Deaths Could be Caused by Workplace Exposure

A new report by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found occupational exposures may have contributed to anywhere from 11 percent to 21 percent of all asthma-related deaths among people aged 15-64 between 1999 and 2016.

Researchers discovered that 14,296 men and 19,011 women died from asthma over this period. The occupations associated with the most deaths were construction for men, and health care for women. Further to this, researchers found that the industries with the highest rates of asthma deaths for men were food and beverage and tobacco product manufacturing. For women, these were social care, and community and social services.

The report noted that known asthma risks such as welding fumes and isocyanates in paint pose dangers to those working in construction, while cleaning products, antibiotics and natural rubber latex are commonly used in the health care profession.

Regardless of occupation, the highest risk groups were people females aged 55 to 64, with African-American or non-Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.

There are currently over 300 known or suspected substances in the workplace which can cause or worsen asthma. Asthma symptoms can develop soon after exposure, or they can appear years later.

“Pharmaceutical treatment of asthma related to occupational exposures is similar to that for asthma that is not work-related,” the report stated. “Early identification and elimination of exposures is the preferred means of primary prevention to reduce asthma related to occupational exposures. However, reduction of exposure might be considered when elimination of exposures is not possible.”

Three recommended ways to control occupational asthma are:

  1. Prevention by reducing or eliminating environmental allergens and irritants.
  2. Early detection, before symptoms start to appear.
  3. Avoiding the exacerbation of symptoms by preventing exposure to triggers when possible, or using less harmful alternatives.

The need for identifying workplace exposures, early diagnosis, and the treatment and management of asthma cases, especially among industries and occupations with higher mortality, has never been greater. Asthma costs the U.S. economy more than $80 billion per year in medical expenses, missed work and school days, and deaths, according to research published online this year in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. It reduces productivity and quality of life for workers, and puts an economic burden on families, businesses, and taxpayers.

The CDC report emphasises the fact that it is important to establish an accurate diagnosis, and recommend appropriate solutions for workers with asthma related to occupational exposures in order to prevent deaths.

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