In its 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) the CDC identified healthcare workers as having the highest rates of asthma of any occupation in the US. The rate for healthcare workers was 8.8%, compared to 6.1% of oil and gas miners, 5.4% for manufacturing workers, and 5.2% for those in agriculture. The main culprits? Cleaning and disinfecting products, powdered latex gloves, and exposures to aerosolized medications used on the job.
Pharmacologic treatments for asthma, particularly inhaled corticosteroids, are effective, but attacks can be almost entirely prevented by avoidance of triggers. One such trigger is the use of detergent enzymes recognized as potential “respiratory sensitizers,” which have been linked to asthma attacks. Work-related triggers in the hospital environment can then be compounded by respiratory allergens in the home, such as dust mites, cockroaches, pet dander, mold, and second-hand smoke, all of which can exacerbate airway irritation.
Be Proactive About Your Own Health
- Seek medical attention for your attacks, even if they are mild. Getting control of asthma early may reduce the severity and frequency of future attacks.
- Reduce triggers in your home by using non-irritant cleaners, washing sheets and towels at least weekly, and by keeping floors and furniture free of dust.
- Use non-latex, non-powdered gloves at work and avoid administering aerosolized medications.
- Take frequent breaks outdoors to clear your lungs of inhaled irritants.
- If you smoke, stop, and avoid being around people who do.
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Adisesh A, Murphy E, Barber CM, Ayres JG. Occupational asthma and rhinitis due to detergent enzymes in healthcare. Occup Med. (Lond) 2011 Aug;61(5):364-369.
Asthma Fact Sheet – EPA
Medpage Today: CDC: Healthcare Workers Have Highest Asthma Prevalence. April 5, 2018.
Last updated on 9/22/19.