Asthma Control at the Office

Asthma Control at the Office

Learn what you need to do to practice successful asthma control while at work and prevent an asthma attack.

Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin MD, MPH

You walk into work feeling well, with your asthma under control, but then leave at the end of the day wheezing and short of breath or, even worse, after experiencing an asthma attack at the office. This scenario plays out daily for a number of asthmatics whose workplaces are filled with asthma triggers. If you’re one of them, there are strategies you can adopt to make the situation more manageable.

Be Prepared for Asthma Control at Work

Follow your asthma action plan at work and also at home to avoid an asthma attack on the job. Some precautions you can take:

  • Keep an inhaler within reach. “Having an albuterol inhaler is the best way to prevent an asthma attack from a personal control standpoint, beyond trying to avoid what triggers the attack,” advises Mark Moss, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
  • Let someone know about your asthma. Depending on the severity of your asthma, you may want to alert a co-worker or your supervisor about your risk of an asthma attack and what triggers your asthma symptoms. You should also provide them with emergency contact information in case they need to call yourdoctor or a family member.
  • Voice your concern about asthma triggers. “People do get self-conscious about having asthma, may not want others to know that they have a health condition, and be reluctant to raise concern,” says Dr. Moss. “Others may be reluctant to be the whistleblower. The hard part is that not all workplaces respond the same way. I’ve had patients that raised concern to their supervisor, their supervisor took it very seriously, and then several other co-workers were very happy that a trigger was removed. Other patients have raised concern to the supervisor, and the supervisor was less sympathetic and may or may not have taken any action.”
  • Get a doctor’s note. If your supervisor doesn’t seem to fully understand your asthma control needs, your doctor may be able to write a letter explaining your condition and any modifications that need to be made in your workplace.

Identify Asthma Attack Triggers at the Office

While you have more control over your environment at home than you do at work, you should still be proactive about identifying asthma attack triggers at your workplace and managing them if you can. Allergies and asthma are both very common problems so, chances are, if you are bothered by a moldy carpet or excessive use of spray cleaning products, someone else may be, too, even if he doesn’t have asthma attacks.

In fact, while you may believe that, as an asthmatic, you are the sick one, it is also possible for buildings to be considered sick. “Sick building syndrome” means that the inner environment of a building is causing a significant number of people to have problems with congestion, headaches, asthma symptoms, and other health issues that they would not otherwise have — symptoms that clear up as soon as they are out of the office. A survey of 14,151 workers identified common asthma triggers that related to their occupation. These included insects, latex, flour, industrial cleaning agents, paper, dust, and carbonless copy paper. Other possible causes of an asthma attack at work are the same as they are at home: cockroaches and their droppings, pet dander (cat dander, for example, can come into the workplace by way of other people’s clothing or accessories) and mold. Let your supervisor know if you identify any triggers that must be cleaned up by a pest control professional, facilities services, or janitorial staff. Depending on how big the business is, cleaning up asthma attack triggers may be your responsibility (in a small office) or a task for building management (in a multi-story, multi-tenant office building).

If a combination of personal asthma control and identification of asthma triggers on the job is not enough, try one more thing: better communication with your supervisor. You may not be the only one suffering from asthma, and your co-workers will likely thank you for clearing the air.

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