Question:Is it true that certain types of jobs might increase my risk of developing asthma?
Answer: Occupational asthma is a very important subcategory of asthma and right now a lot of things have been implicated as causing asthma in the workplace.
In fact, about 250 different chemical substances have been associated with asthma. And they're divided up into a number of groups. Things like animal substances where people come in contact with animal materials, whether it be things found in dander, hair, scales, body tissues -- that sort of thing. Also chemicals, especially those chemicals like anhydrides or diisocynates, acids, things that might be used in the preparation of paints, dyes, varnishes -- those kind of chemicals.
Also enzymes and different kinds of proteins that people use to mix up with food products, pharmaceuticals can all be implicated in developing asthma. Also metal exposures especially to things like platinum, chromium and nickel have been long associated with asthma.
Some plant substances can also be associated with asthma like insecticides and respiratory irritants, like small molecules like chlorine gas, sulfur dioxide and smoke.
As far as how they cause asthma, there are probably three important ways. One is a direct irritation of the airway where this chemical may come in and cause an immediate reaction in the airway. The other is allergies, so that if people are exposed to some of these chemicals for a long periods of time and by that I mean from a year to many years, they develop an immune response to those chemicals. So when they get exposed to the chemical they'll release an antibody that causes an allergic reaction. And the third way is just a pharmacologic response, so there's something given to them or that they're exposed to that enhances the body's own response that leads to inflammation and an asthma exacerbation.