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Going to Work without Laboring for Breath

How to Handle Asthma Hazards in the Workplace

Asthma image

The vast majority of the American workforce spends at least part of their day laboring indoors, where serious health dangers may be lurking in the air they breathe. According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, approximately 11 mil­lion workers, including those who are employed by offices, restaurants, and industrial facilities, are exposed to at last one or more substances in their workplace that could cause asthma symptoms.

Many of these workers have legiti­mate concerns about their workplace environment, as demonstrated by these common questions from callers to the American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine:
“I cannot access the employee entrance at my work due to other employees and visitors smoking. What can I do?”
“I work in a small office, and a few coworkers wear so much perfume it chokes me and I have to use my rescue inhaler several times. How do I get them to realize they are making me sick?”
“I use a company vehicle that is shared with other employees, including some who smoke in the vehicle. This makes my asthma worse. How can I avoid this?”
“The building I work in had water damage, and now has a smell that makes me and a few other coworkers sick. We think it might be mold. What can we do?”

Having solid policies in place to protect your lung health
can mean less time spent struggling for breath
and more time focusing on your job.

Your work environment shouldn’t cause your asthma to worsen. Whether you work in an office, store, restau­rant, or factory, having solid policies in place to protect your lung health can mean less time spent struggling for breath and more time focusing on your job.

Even people who aren’t coping with asthma can have allergic sensitivities to perfumes and strong fragrances found in some cleaning products and air fresheners. And no one’s lungs are safe when having to inhale second­hand smoke.

Become a Polite Advocate
Your employer has a vested interest in your health and safety while on the clock. If your place of business doesn’t already have a smokefree or scent-free policy in place, talk with your immediate supervisor about your health concerns.

The American Lung Association has created a Guide for Controlling Asthma at Work (available at to help adults living with asthma recognize if their workplace is making them sick. It also outlines steps you can follow to take control. Taking time to educate yourself about asthma and the com­ponents of a lung-friendly workplace will help you have a productive con­versation with your supervisor as you advocate for better workplace health.


One in twelve adults has asthma, and you’re not alone in your concerns. The American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine can help provide advice on how to make your workday healthier and safer. Call 1-800-LUNG-USA (586-4872) for immediate help from a trained staff of respiratory therapists, counselors, and registered nurses. You can also submit a question online at

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2015-2016.