When Their Job Puts Workers at Risk for Asthma

CDC researchers find health care workers might have acquired or worsened asthma due to workplace irritants.


As many as 2.7 million American workers might have asthma that their work may have caused or worsened, say CDC researchers. Data from the 2006-2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Asthma Call-back Survey in 33 states revealed that nearly half of adult asthma could be related to work, and thus potentially preventable.


Of the respondents employed in the previous year, 7.7% had asthma, ranging from 5% in Mississippi to 10% in Michigan. Among the 21 states that collected information on industry and occupation, prevalence of asthma was highest among workers in health care support occupations in Michigan (21.5%). In fact, health care ranked first among the 5 industries with the highest asthma prevalence, and health care practitioners ranked second among the 5 occupational groups with the highest asthma prevalence.

Different industries and occupations have different irritants. In health care, for instance, cleaning and disinfection products, powdered latex gloves, and aerosolized medications have doubled the likelihood of new-onset asthma, the report notes. But it’s possible to make a big dent in the illness prevalence with evidence-based changes. The researchers say powder-free natural rubber latex or nonlatex gloves, for instance, “considerably reduced” workplace asthma in the health care industry,

The researchers say their findings might help physicians and state public health officials identify workers who should be evaluated for work-related asthma, in order to plan and target interventions.

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