GP Awareness Needed on Occupational Asthma

inhalerNew research published recently in a scientific journal indicates that GPs need to be better at recognising occupational asthma after figures show that many people who develop work-related asthma are not correctly diagnosed by doctors.

The report, published in Occupational Medicine by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), says that work-related factors cause 1 in 10 cases of asthma in adults but an audit of patient records suggests that GPs do not recognise this in three-quarters of patients.

According to the SOM, every year up to 3,000 people develop asthma because they are exposed to materials at work. Early diagnosis of occupational asthma and avoidance of further exposure can lead to complete recovery. However, failure to diagnose the condition and delays in accessing specialist advice mean that two-thirds of sufferers never make a full recovery.

Researchers at the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Birmingham conducted an audit of the electronic patient records of working age asthmatics. Occupation was only recorded in 14% of the cases and in nearly all cases (98%) GPs failed to record if they had asked simple screening questions about whether their asthma symptoms improved at weekends and on holiday.

The SOM is urging GPs to always question patients who present with respiratory problems about their job, the materials they work with and whether their symptoms improve when they are away from work.

A source at the Society said, “They should also be aware of those trades that carry particular risks such as vehicle paint sprayers, bakers, laboratory workers and workers in the chemical industry. The most common causative agents are isocyanates, flour, cutting oils, laboratory animals and insects, enzymes and wood dusts.”

Dr Richard Heron, President of the SOM said, “Highlighting the prevalence of occupational asthma is absolutely key, as too often work-related factors are overlooked.”

Occupational Asthma: At a Glance

  • Asthma is a condition that leads to wheezing, coughing and chest tightness and is the most frequently reported occupational respiratory disease in Great Britain.
  • Existing asthma sufferers may find their condition worsens if they are exposed to a range of substances – or sensitisers – in the workplace.
  • Occupational asthma is caused (rather than made worse) by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.
  • Work-related asthma is asthma made worse by work and includes substances in the workplace that irritate the airways of individuals with pre-existing asthma.
  • Where the workforce may be exposed to substances that can cause asthma, it is important to identify who may be exposed to these substances.
  • Asthma can be caused by a wide range of agents known as asthmagens. These agents should be identified in the workplace and exposure to them strictly controlled.
  • Prospective employees should be asked about pre-existing asthma conditions caused by sensitisation to substances to which they might be exposed in their new job.


Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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