Occupational asthma affects thousands

Exposure to agents such as wood dust, paint fumes, solvents, latex and baking flour triggers up to 3,000 new cases of asthma every year in susceptible workers in Australia, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

There are between 300 and 400 potential causal agents of occupational asthma-others include isocyanates (the raw materials used in polyurethane products), coffee bean dust, formaldehyde and solder flux.

The report, Occupational Asthma in Australia, shows that anywhere from 9 to 15% of adult-onset asthma cases can be attributed to exposure to causal agents at work.

'As many as 3,000 new cases of occupational asthma occur each year in Australia,' said Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, Head of the AIHW's Asthma, Arthritis and Environmental Health Unit.

Occupations with the greatest risk for occupational asthma include farming, painting, cleaning, baking, animal handling and chemical work.

Other at-risk occupations include nursing, welding, food processing, dentistry, timber and forestry industries, and industries that produce metals, plastics, electronics, rubber and textiles.

Although not curable, occupational asthma is largely preventable through actions that avoid or reduce exposure to workplace sensitisers and irritants.

'Unfortunately people with occupational asthma often have to change jobs or careers to relieve their symptoms, hence work disruption and economic hardship can result,' Dr Bhatia said.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that affects more than 2 million Australians across all age groups. Asthma can develop any time in life but current estimates are that 50-60% of all cases develop in adulthood.

Exposure to causal agents, tobacco smoking, previous allergic sensitisation, and genetic disposition are all thought to affect individual susceptibility to asthma.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Further information: Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, AIHW 02 6244 1144, mob. 0417 880 300

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.