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Asthma takes a toll on workers

A laptop, cellphone, cup of tea, notebook and inhaler.

Aug. 19, 2019—If asthma flare-ups tend to get in the way of your work, talking with your doctor about ways to keep the disease in check could make you a happier, healthier and more productive employee, a new study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy suggests.

Understanding asthma in the workplace

Asthma is a chronic lung disease. It can cause episodes of breathing problems known as a flare-ups. A research team wanted to know what effects asthma symptoms may have on workers.

They looked at online survey data from nearly 1,600 symptomatic full- or part-time workers in six countries, excluding the U.S. The survey participants used inhalers or other long-term control medicines to prevent asthma symptoms and flare-ups.

Even with these efforts, though, many survey respondents missed work or got less done. Among the key findings:

  • 3 out of 4 workers said they couldn't work to their full potential because of their symptoms.
  • Survey participants missed more than 9% of their working hours because of their asthma. That's about 5.4 hours missed in a single week.
  • 42% of workers experienced a noticeable drop in their productivity because of asthma.

Guilt and embarrassment for workers

A striking finding from the study was that asthma also takes an emotional toll at work. Many participants said they felt guilt, shame and embarrassment when using their asthma inhalers on the job. And many workers even said they felt inferior and disadvantaged compared to their colleagues without asthma.

The study does have a number of limitations, though. It only looked at the effects of asthma over the course of one workweek. It also did not include people whose asthma was well-controlled or those who did not have asthma at all.

Show asthma symptoms the door

If you have asthma and it's affecting your daily life, you should tell your doctor. They may suggest ways to improve your asthma control. That starts with an asthma management plan.

An asthma management plan typically calls for monitoring your symptoms, avoiding asthma triggers and taking medicines to prevent flare-ups or stop them when they start.

Over time, asthma treatments sometimes need adjusting. But the good news? Most people who have asthma can feel better—and they should not have symptoms that interfere with their daily activities, including work.

Recognizing an asthma flare-up

Do you know what to do when your asthma flares up? Find out.

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