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April, 2010

NACI Partner Profile

NIOSH: Working All Hours to Stop Asthma 9 to 5

Joining the National Asthma Control Initiative (NACI) in its fight for increased awareness and use of science-based asthma guidelines is the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Founded in 1996, NIOSH is a leader in putting research into practice in workplace settings around the country, thus reducing injuries and illnesses.

Now, NIOSH is raising awareness of the seriousness of work-related asthma. Of newly diagnosed asthma cases, it is estimated that 15-30 percent are triggered by things—cleaning agents, dust mites, fumes, etc.—in the workplace, according to a NIOSH study.

In 2005, a 50-year-old chemical worker paid the ultimate price for the lack of asthma awareness at the adhesive manufacturing plant where he worked.

He had developed asthma while on the job, and later collapsed and died of complications from the disease. Prior to his death, on three separate occasions, the man had complained of breathing problems.

“Cases like this are preventable. Clinicians need to ask patients about their workplace environment and need to know how to diagnose and manage work-related asthma,” said Dr. Eileen Storey, Acting Chief of the Surveillance Branch, NIOSH. “Failing to address these issues early on may lead to permanent asthma.”

Dr. Storey believes a partnership with the NACI is the solution to the awareness problem. Sharing NIOSH’s messages among the NACI’s broad array of stakeholders will bring attention to work-related asthma and hopefully encourage individuals to conduct their own workplace assessment and make improvements if necessary.

“Physician recognition is an important step in the diagnosis of occupational asthma,” said Margaret “Peggy” Filios, Captain of the U.S. Public Health Service, NIOSH. “So, we are developing tools to help physicians understand the importance of asking about irritants within the workplace.”

When it’s done properly, spirometry can effectively assess lung function. Unfortunately, it’s often performed incorrectly, making it useless in guiding treatment. That’s why NIOSH-approved spirometry training courses have to meet clear standards.

“If the National Asthma Education and Prevention Panel Coordinating Committee — the organization behind the NACI—was able to influence how clinicians manage asthma, we’re hoping that the same can be done to inspire clinicians to include occupational history in clinical practice,” said Dr. Storey. 

Dr. Storey and Captain Filios are eager to roll up their sleeves and work alongside the NACI to motivate clinicians to follow the Guidelines Implementation Panel (GIP) message that says clinicians should review each patient’s exposure to allergens and irritants, and provide a multipronged strategy to reduce exposure to those allergens and irritants to which a patient is sensitive and exposed.

Both believe that collaboration and support are the keys to bridging the gap in the treatment and controlling asthma.

For more information about occupational asthma, visit this NIOSH page on asthma and allergies.


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Last Updated February 2011




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