The objective of the study was to estimate the incidences of physician-diagnosed cases of work-related asthma (WRA) in Michigan and the entire United States. The statewide surveillance system for WRA in Michigan receives reports primarily from three sources: physicians, hospital discharge data, and worker's compensation claims. Knowledge of the overlap in reports from these sources was used in conjunction with capture-recapture methods to estimate the total number of diagnosed cases of WRA, and incidence rates were calculated using the estimated number of civilian employees in Michigan as the population at risk. For the entire United States, the product of a national incidence rate for asthma among adults and estimates of the proportion that is work-related was used. A total of 933 cases of WRA were reported to the Michigan surveillance program during 1988-1995, of which 904 were reported by at least one of the three main sources and equaled an average incidence of 27 cases/10(6)/year. This estimate was less than the range of estimates 58 to 204 cases/10(6)/year in Michigan arrived at using the capture-recapture methods. The national estimates of WRA ranged from 63 to 441 cases/10(6)/year. The authors' indirect estimates are closer to estimates from Canada, Sweden, and Finland than most existing direct estimates in the United States, but probably still underestimates the magnitude of WRA incidence because of the limitations of physician recognition of the work-relatedness of asthma among adults.