About 9–15% of adult-onset asthma cases can be attributed to exposures at work. Precise data are not available, but based on research from Australia and overseas, there may be as many as 1,000–3,000 new cases of occupational asthma each year in Australia. People with occupational asthma often have to change jobs or careers to relieve their symptoms; hence, work disruption and economic hardship are common consequences of the disease.
Occupational asthma is a type of asthma where the cause is often acknowledged. Individuals at high risk of developing this disease include those with a family history of asthma, previous sensitisation to one or more allergens, exposure to tobacco smoke, and, most importantly, employment in a high-risk workplace.Manufacturing and health/community services tend to be the industries with the workplaces of highest risk.
Although not curable, occupational asthma is largely preventable through actions that avoid or reduce exposure to workplace sensitisers and irritants. The ability to predict which people are likely to develop occupational asthma is mixed and requires further investigation and review. There is also a need to gather more systematic data on the causes, prevalence, incidence and impact of occupational asthma in Australia.