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We’re all aware about the health problems health care professionals face on the job. The problems we often think about are the result of stress or long hours on their feet. But it’s worse. New research says health care experts deal with a more serious problem – work-related asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said almost 11 percent of workers in the health care and social assistance industry reported having asthma. That’s more than any other industry surveyed.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes muscles in your lung airways to tighten. This makes breathing hard. 

  • According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 900,000 adults have been diagnosed with asthma. That’s nearly 13 percent of our state’s population. And, more than 535,000 (7.5 percent) of them still have it.
  • In 2009 alone, 10,986 hospital stays were caused by asthma in North Carolina. The price tag? More than $132.5 million in hospital costs. 

Work-related asthma is caused or worsened by breathing in fumes, gases, dust or other substances on the job. This is worrisome because of the number of health care professionals in North Carolina. As a hub for health care and medical research, North Carolina employs almost 10 percent of U.S. health care workers. The rising rate of work-related asthma means that more North Carolinians are at risk.

Occupational Asthma in the Health Care Industry

Health care workers often are exposed to three conditions that cause difficulty breathing, leading them to be twice as likely to develop asthma:

  • Chemicals used to disinfect and clean hospital rooms, surgical surfaces and lab equipment
  • Surgical smoke from lasers and devices that contains chemical vapors and gases
  • Drugs that can be spread through inhalation or close proximity

 

Watching Out for Asthma Warning Signs  

If you work in the health care industry, it’s important to watch out for the signs of asthma. Common symptoms include:

  • Wheezing, a high-pitched whistling noise made while breathing
  • Chronic cough, which often gets worse at night, after exercise or in cold weather
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Constant tightness in the chest 

Preventing Work-Related Asthma

While work-related asthma is a serious health issue, it can be prevented. Here are a few safety measures to add into your daily routine:

  • Read all chemical labels
  • Follow the product instructions, when using chemicals
  • Keep the chemicals in their original containers
  • Wash your hands before eating and before leaving work
  • Throw out or recycle waste properly
  • Use protective equipment such as safety glasses and gloves

If you have asthma, be sure to discuss your condition with the following:

  • Your supervisor,
  • Your worksite health and safety officer; and
  • Your physician.

What Resources Are Available?

If you are having difficulty breathing or having a medical emergency, dial 911. Also contact your family doctor or health care provider to establish a proper treatment plan after.

For more information on asthma and resources for health professionals, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Charlene Macielag

About Charlene Macielag

Charlene Macielag is a Communications Specialist on the New Media team at BCBSNC.