What is Asthma?

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  • What is asthma?

    What is asthma?

    Asthma affects the small airways (bronchioles) that carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma your airways can become inflamed, swollen and constricted (or narrowed) and excess mucus is produced.

    More than 5.2 million people in the UK are being treated for asthma and about 1.1 million of these are children. Asthma affects approximately one in 12 adults and one in eight children in the UK. This means there is a person with asthma in one in five households in the UK. It can affect almost anyone, at any age, anywhere although it tends to be worse in children and young adults.

    Asthma is becoming increasingly common in the developed world and is now the most common chronic condition in the west. Aspects of the modern environment that are thought to be contributing factors include:

    Air pollution, Processed foods, Centrally heated and double-glazed houses (ideal breeding grounds for house dust mites)

  • Asthma symptoms

    Asthma symptoms

    Asthma is a serious health problem. Thousands of people in Britain have to face the challenges of this disease every day. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath that can stop you from doing the simplest tasks. Imagine not being able to carry your shopping or walk up the stairs or even play with your children. Some sufferers are unable to work again.

    Other symptoms include Wheezing, Coughing and Chest tightness

    The symptoms can develop right after exposure to a workplace substance. But sometimes symptoms appear several hours later, possibly at night. This can make any link with workplace activities unclear. Other associated conditions are:

    rhinitis (sneezing/runny nose).

    conjunctivitis (itchy and inflamed red eyes).

  • Occupational asthma

    Causes of asthma in the workplace

    Occupational asthma is an allergic reaction that can occur in some people when they are exposed to substances, for example flour or wood dust in the workplace. These substances are called 'respiratory sensitisers' or asthmagens. They can cause a change in people's airways, known as the 'hypersensitive state'.

    Not everyone who becomes sensitised goes on to get asthma. But once the lungs become hypersensitive, further exposure to the substance, even at quite low levels, may trigger an attack.

    Work-related asthma or asthma made worse by work is broader and includes substances in the workplace that irritate the airways of individuals with pre-existing asthma. This includes people who have had asthma since childhood. Respiratory irritants may trigger attacks in those with occupational asthma or pre-existing asthma.

    Examples include chlorine, general dust and even cold air.

  • Genetics and asthma

    Genetics and asthma

    Asthma tends to run in families that are prone to allergies. So, belonging to a family where some members have asthma and others have other allergies, such as eczema, hay fever or allergic rhinitis, makes a person more likely to have asthma themselves.

    However, because there are so many factors involved, it can be difficult to predict exactly who in a family will develop the condition. Although asthmatic and allergic tendencies are inherited, there is no single gene involved. Rather, there are a number of different ones that react with factors in your environment to trigger the onset of asthma.

    Scientists are searching for the genes involved in asthma that may eventually lead to a cure.

  • Environmental factors and asthma

    Environmental factors and asthma

    Environmental factors that increase the risk of developing asthma include:

    Exposure to allergens during pregnancy (for example from foods in the mother's diet) that sensitise the unborn baby's immune system

    Infections such as colds during early life

    Being brought up in a house where there is a pet (especially a cat)

    Being introduced to certain foods such as cow's milk and eggs at a young age

    Being born at a time of year when the pollen count is high

    Being exposed to cigarette smoke in the uterus or early life - babies whose mothers smoke are twice as likely to develop asthma

    Air pollution

In addition to the health surveillance service, the occupational health services that we can provide include:

  • Pre-Placement Health Assessments
  • Fork Lift Truck Driver Health Assessments
  • Night Worker Health Assessments
  • DSE Assessments
  • Management Referrals
  • Sickness Absence Management
  • Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) tier 3 and 4 Assessments
  • Driver Medicals
  • Noise Assessments
  • Biological Monitoring of urine for Isocyanates