Occupational asthma: a review

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Aug;108 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):697-704. doi: 10.1289/ehp.00108s4697.


Occupational asthma is the most common form of occupational lung disease in the developed world at the present time. In this review, the epidemiology, pathogenesis/mechanisms, clinical presentations, management, and prevention of occupational asthma are discussed. The population attributable risk of asthma due to occupational exposures is considerable. Current understanding of the mechanisms by which many agents cause occupational asthma is limited, especially for low-molecular-weight sensitizers and irritants. The diagnosis of occupational asthma is generally established on the basis of a suggestive history of a temporal association between exposure and the onset of symptoms and objective evidence that these symptoms are related to airflow limitation. Early diagnosis, elimination of exposure to the responsible agent, and early use of inhaled steroids may play important roles in the prevention of long-term persistence of asthma. Persistent occupational asthma is often associated with substantial disability and consequent impacts on income and quality of life. Prevention of new cases is the best approach to reducing the burden of asthma attributable to occupational exposures. Future research needs are identified.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Asthma / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational