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Work-Related Asthma

What is work-related asthma (WRA)?

In 2009, more than 460,000 Oregon adults were estimated as ever having asthma (lifetime) and almost 300,000 were estimated to have current asthma.1 Asthma is associated with environment, genetics, and other factors, and is characterized by recurrent episodes of chest tightness, wheezing, cough and shortness of breath. In an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways tighten, causing less air to circulate. Swelling also narrows the airways, which can cause mucus to clog it.2

Substances or conditions in the workplace such as dust, chemicals and smoke cause or worsen WRA. An estimated 15% of adult asthma is due to work-related exposures.3 Although WRA is preventable, there is no evidence that its incidence is decreasing.

Who conducts WRA surveillance?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) funds California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York to conduct asthma surveillance. While Oregon does not receive funding to monitor WRA specifically, asthma is a priority issue for Oregon. The Oregon Asthma Program conducts asthma surveillance and provides resources and data about asthma among Oregonians.


According to data from the Oregon Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS, a random-digit-dialed telephone survey that is administered annually to adults 18 years or older in each state), adult asthma prevalence in Oregon was 10.2 percent(approximately 300,000 adults) in 2009.1 From 2003-2007, Oregon ranked among the top 10 states with the highest percentage of adults with asthma in the United States. In a 2005 BRFSS follow-up survey of adults with asthma, 11 percent of currently employed respondents said chemicals, smoke, fumes or dust at their current job caused their asthma and 24 percent of respondents said those substances exacerbated their asthma. Health care providers told seven percent of respondents that their asthma was related to one or more of their jobs.


Putting Data to Work

Putting Data to Work is a quarterly publication by OPHP that provides readers with concise descriptions of work-related issues. It provides a scope of the problem summary, epidemiological data, description and/or diagnosis of the injury/illness, case summary, prevention recommendations, conclusions, resources, and references.

Putting Data to Work: Work-related Asthma (pdf)

Tips to Remember: Occupational Asthma

From the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, this brochure provides a summary of useful facts about occupational asthma, including some common substances that cause WRA.

Tips to Remember

IRSST Asthma Fact Sheets

The Institut de Recherche Robert-Sauvé en Santé et en Securité du Travail (IRSST) has published a useful fact sheet (in English) about WRA and adapted it to address risks and prevention strategies in specific industries: baking and pastry arts, carpentry and joinery, dental hygiene, plastering, plumbing and heating, and animal health.

Generic Fact Sheets (pdf)

Baking and Pastry Arts (pdf)

Carpentry and Joinery (pdf)

Dental Hygiene (pdf)

Plastering (pdf)

Plumbing and Heating (pdf)

Animal Health (pdf)


1 Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division. 2010. The burden of asthma in Oregon: 2010.

2 National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 2006. What is asthma? Available at URL:

3 Balmes J, Becklake M, Blanc P et al. 3002. Environmental and Occupational Health Assembly, American Thoracic Society. American Thoracic Society statement: occupational contribution to the burden of airway disease. Am J Resp Crit Care Med 167:787-97.