Canadian Lung Association

Canadian Lung Association

May 04, 2009 10:00 ET

Asthma at Work: The Lung Association Spotlights Work-Related Asthma on World Asthma Day, May 5th

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - May 4, 2009) - Work-related asthma is the most common lung disease on the job, says The Lung Association. It's also estimated that about 10 to 15% of new cases of asthma in Canadian adults can be blamed on something in their workplace.

"There's a common misconception about who's at risk. Many people think that occupations like miners and chemical workers are at high risk. But in fact, hairdressers, dental hygienists, industrial bakers and even teachers are at risk, too," says Dr. Susan Tarlo, a respirologist at the University of Toronto and a spokesperson for The Lung Association for World Asthma Day.

It's estimated that 25% of working Canadian adults with asthma experience, at one time or another, symptoms that are job-related.

Any worker is at risk, but some jobs put workers at higher risk, such as construction, farming, painting, cleaning, baking, animal handling and chemical work. Other at-risk occupations include nursing, welding, food processing, dentistry, timber and forestry industries, and industries that produce metals, plastics, electronics, rubber and textiles.

Marcel Lemire, of St. Boniface, Manitoba, was at risk for work-related asthma but didn't know it. For more than 17 years, Lemire worked of a large dairy processing plant. In his last nine years there, Lemire operated a machine that filled containers with dairy products. Before the machine filled a container, it was sanitized with a fine mist.

Unfortunately, the chemical Marcel had been repeatedly exposed to over the years caused permanent lung damage. "I've lost 26 per cent of my lung capacity. I used to run marathons. Now it's difficult for me to shovel snow and walk up stairs," says the 44-year-old father of two. "My whole quality of life has changed dramatically." Lemire eventually quit his job, rather than risk his health.

More than 300 substances have been identified as causing occupational asthma, including cleaning products, wood dust, isocyanates (the raw materials used in polyurethane products), food and animal protein, formaldehyde, latex and baking flour and solder flux.

If identified early, work-related asthma can be prevented. "In the case of occupational asthma, early removal from exposure can cure asthma. For work-exacerbated asthma, preventive measures can be taken to protect workers at risk and adequate medications can be prescribed," says Dr. Tarlo.

For more information about work-related asthma

For a list of jobs at high risk for work related asthma

For a list of red flags for workers to watch for

It's estimated that 1.9 million Canadians over the age of 19 have doctor-diagnosed asthma. It's not known how many cases of work-related asthma exist in Canada because of under-recognition of the condition.

Established in 1900, The Canadian Lung Association is one of Canada's oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs and advocacy on lung health issues.

A Backgrounder is available at the following address:

Contact Information

  • The Lung Association
    Cameron Bishop
    Director of Government Affairs and Media Relations
    613-569-6411 ext.223