1 in 10 adults develop asthma at their workplace

According to Australian researchers as many as 1 in 10 Australians who develop asthma as an adult can blame it on their workplace.

New statistics released by respiratory experts show hairdressers, spray painters and other people working with chemicals are at greater risk of developing asthma.

It is estimated that in excess of two million Australians have asthma and around 40 per cent developed the condition as an adult.

Researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma, Woolcock Medical Institute in Sydney carried out a survey of 3,300, 18- to 49-year olds living in New South Wales who completed and returned a mailed questionnaire.

The researchers wanted to find out more about the link between asthma and exposure to conditions experienced in a range of occupations known to be at risk for occupational asthma.

They found that 9.5 per cent of adult-onset asthmatics, almost one in 10, developed the condition after working in a "high-risk" job.

Dr. Guy Marks the head of epidemiology at the Woolcock Institute says these occupations were wide and varied ranging from automotive repair, electronics manufacturing and farm work, to bakeries, hairdressing and the pharmaceutical industry.

It seems in each occupation there is some element which triggers the asthma; for bakers it may be something in the flour which causes a problem and for spray painters, it is the chemicals found in the paint.

The situation is the same for dry cleaners, printers, and people working with laboratory animals; even health care workers are at risk because they regularly use gloves made of latex, known to cause allergies.

Dr Marks says the medical world has always recognised work-related asthma as a problem, but the public was still largely unaware of the risks and even if people do realise what is happening to them they are often forced to remain in the job for economic reasons.

Marks says employers are obliged to do all they can to control exposure to irritants and many already do so.

Recent studies have found that occupational asthma can vary in intensity, and may disappear once a person quits the job but there is evidence that those who stay in the job for a long time after they first develop the problem, could still have the condition long after they quit.

The survey, funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma and Airways, is published in the current edition of the journal, Occupational Medicine.

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