Living with asthma as an adult

Asthma can be erroneously seen as a childhood disease, but it may develop at any age. Asthma is so common in adults that is a leading cause of missed work days. In fact, if asthma is not well-controlled, the patient may experience a heavy burden of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheeze, chest tightness and cough that may interfere with day-to-day living, sleeping, and physical activities.

Conducting a normal life with asthma is possible if you learn how to manage it. That means you need the right medical support and a personalised treatment plan and, in some cases, adapting your lifestyle. If you are proactive and take your controller medication as prescribed, you can reduce symptoms and asthma attacks.

Asthma at work

Whether you work indoors or outdoors, your workplace can expose you to irritants and allergens, such as chemical fumes, industrial or wood dust, solvents, pests, moulds, vehicle exhaust, ozone and second-hand smoke, that can cause, or more frequently aggravate, your symptoms.

If your asthma appeared for the first time in adulthood, after exposure in your workplace, or if your asthma is worse when you are at work than when you are at home or on vacation, you may have “occupational asthma”. You should see your doctor immediately, to avoid long-term problems with your lungs.

About “risky jobs” and possible asthma triggers


Possible asthma triggers

Adhesive handlers


Animal handlers, veterinarians

Animal proteins

Bakers, millers, farmers

Cereal grains

Carpet makers

Vegetable gums

Metal workers

Cobalt, nickel

Food production workers

Milk powder, egg powder

Forest workers, carpenters, cabinet makers

Wood dust



Healthcare workers

Latex and chemicals

Pharmaceutical workers, bakers

Drugs, enzymes

Seafood processors

Herring, snow crab

Spray painters, insulation installers, plastics and foam industry workers, welders, metal workers, chemical manufacturers, shellac handlers


Textile workers

Dyes, plastics

Users of plastics or epoxy resins, chemical manufacturers


If you have a high-risk job, your company has the legal responsibility to protect you from dangerous substances.



Avoidance or reduction of the exposure is the best way to protect yourself. Take action as soon as you notice symptoms at work, since the longer you are exposed to irritants, the worse your symptoms may become, and the longer it will take for them to improve.

It is very important to see your doctor straight away if you suspect you have occupational asthma, so that it can be diagnosed and you can be given advice about avoiding ongoing exposure. This sometimes requires a change of job. Specialist referral may be necessary.

More #aboutasthma
Types of asthma
Treatments for asthma
How to communicate about asthma with healthcare providers
What is an asthma attack?
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