Workplace exposures cause or worsen one in six cases of asthma. It is a serious, chronic condition that has no cure – but asthma can be managed. Although people with asthma have it all the time, they only have asthma attacks when something irritates their lungs. Help your employees stay healthy, on the job and out of the hospital by helping them control their asthma.
Asthma involves inflammation and tightening of airways. This means less space for air to flow in and out of the lungs. In some cases, mucus builds up in the airways and further prevents the passage of air. The primary symptoms of asthma are wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Severe symptoms or multiple symptoms at once can lead to an asthma attack. Getting the correct treatment is critical.
Cindy, a 38-year old patient at a Healthstat health and wellness center in Florida explained, “I have asthma which is triggered when I get sick. I need to get the correct medicine and breathing treatment right away. I went to urgent care once and they gave me an antibiotic instead of the steroid I needed, and I wound up in the hospital the next day. My nurse practitioner at work knows me, and she knows how to help me keep my asthma under control.”
Triggers are highly individual and not everyone is affected in the same way. Dust, pets, mold, sulfites, cigarette smoke, colds and even exercise are selective triggers. Strong fumes, vapors, or odors can also affect asthmatics. These include paint, gasoline, perfumes and scented soaps. People aren’t allergic to those strong scents but they bother airways that are already inflamed and sensitive. Keep fumes, chemicals and strong scents out of the workplace as much as possible to limit asthma flare-ups. Good ventilation and air conditioning are also key to removing the airborne irritants that can cause an asthma attack. If an employee feels much better when they leave work and much worse when they come back, don’t blame it on the job – check out the air quality instead. “Allergic to work” isn’t what’s really wrong.
In addition to environmental improvements, employers can offer outreach materials and organize activities tailored to asthmatic employees. Support employee-wide health with education about common triggers and wellness programs encouraging people to quit smoking or start exercising. Events like 5k walks or volleyball tournaments are safe for asthmatics and great opportunities for socializing.
Your onsite clinic provides services to help asthmatic employees breathe easier in and out of the office. Beyond treating asthma symptoms, clinicians ensure that patients can take control of their health in the long run. Clinicians help patients create an asthma action plan that outlines triggers, symptoms, and what to do during an asthma attack. They can also prescribe medication through the dispensary and coach patients on how to use inhalers and other asthma treatments. As with any chronic disease, diet and exercise are key parts of managing asthma symptoms. Certain foods, especially those containing sulfites, and physical activity in cold or dry conditions can cause flare-ups. Clinicians offer personalized guidance for asthma-friendly meals and workouts. These services help people with asthma stay healthy and productive at work and away from the hospital.
The American Lung Association also suggests examining these potential triggers at work:
- Machines that give off odors, particles or chemicals, including copiers and printers
- Chemicals used for your work that emit odors, particles or gases
- New furniture, carpeting or paint
- Products that give off odors, gases or particles such as sprays, perfumes or fragrances
- Improperly stored food or garbage
- Outside sources of odors or chemicals coming inside, such as vehicle exhaust, roofing materials or construction dust
- Heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems
- Leaks or standing water
- Humidity levels