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Types of Work Related Asthma

There are 3 types of work-related asthma:

  • Work-Aggravated: when a person already has asthma but something at work makes the breathing symptoms worse.
  • New-Onset Asthma from a High Level Exposure to a Substance at Work: when a person never had asthma before and was exposed to a spill or big leak of a chemical at work, and then developed asthma after that event.
  • New-Onset Asthma from Working with a Substance Known to Cause Asthma: when a person may have worked with a substance at work, even for many years with no asthma symptoms and then develops asthma, months or years later.

For greater detail on the diagnosis and identification of the three types of work-related asthma, read the following scientific articles:

Substances at work that can cause asthma

There are more than 400 substances that have been reported in the medical literature that have been shown to cause work-related asthma. The list continues to grow. The main categories of substances that can cause asthma in the workplace include:

  • ANIMALS (dander, fur, etc.)
  • PLANTS and PLANT material

The following is a short list of examples of the types of jobs, industries, and the types of substances that can cause asthma. For an Exposure Code online look-up option for asthma-causing agents, refer to this web site: www.aoecdata.org/ExpCodeLookup.aspx.

Some of the More Common Workplace Exposures
Job or Type of Industry Type of Asthma-Causing Agent
    Animal or Insect Proteins
Laboratory animal workers
dander and urine proteins
Food processing shellfish, egg proteins
Poultry farmers poultry mites, droppings, feathers
Grain workers storage mites, aspergillus, grass pollen
    Plant Proteins
Bakers flour dust
Food processing coffee bean dust, tea, meat tenderizer
Farmers soybean dust
Sawmill workers/carpenters wood dust (western red cedar, oak, mahogany, redwood, and others)
Electric soldering colophony (pine resin)
Nurses psyllium, latex
Plating nickel salts
Beauty shop persulfates
Welding stainless steel fumes, chromium salts
Hospital workers disinfectants (formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde)
Plastics manufacturing TDI, HDI, Methylene diisocyanate, phthalic anhydride
Automobile painting dimethyl ethanolamine diisocyanates

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed Alerts on several asthma causing agents. These Alerts provide important information on working with some of the more widely-used and dangerous asthma-causing agents. Click on the reports below to read the Alerts on:

Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers
Preventing Asthma and Death from Diisocyanate Exposure
Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace
View the Federal OSHA's website on metalworking fluids and asthma

Examples of Agents Capable of Causing Work-Related Asthma
Natural Products
vegetable gums orris root
flax seed flour
castor bean papain
soybean mushroom dust and moldy composte
natural glues wood dusts
animal danders and other animal antigens natural resins
coffee bean animal fat, oil and products
insect debris fish meal and emulsions
detergent enzymes tobacco dust
grain dusts and grain products pancreatic extracts
Inorganic Pharmaceuticals
platinum, complex salts psyllium
nickel salts penicillin
chromium salts ampicillin
sodium and potasium spiramycin
persulphates phenylglycine acid chloride
Organic Pharmaceuticals
sulphathiasole bromelin
diisocyanates amprolium hydrochloride
toulene sulphone choloramides
diphenylmethane tetracycline
Miscellaneous Anhydrides
phthalic formaldehyde
tetrachlorophthallic piperazine
trimellitic organophosphorus insecticides
Miscellaneous Amines
pyrolysis products of polyvinyl chloride
aminoethyl alkylaryl polyether alcohol
ethanolamine tartrazine
dimethyl ethanolamine products of heated adhesives
ethylene diamine
diethylene triamine
diethylene tetramine

Based on materials reviewed and provided by the Michigan State University Occupational and Environmental Medicine Department, updated 2023.