Occupational asthma: diagnostic challenges and management dilemmas

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Purpose of review

Work-related asthma encompasses both sensitizer-induced and irritant-induced occupational asthma as well as work-exacerbated asthma. This review summarizes current diagnostic and management strategies for occupational asthma.

Recent findings

Occupational asthma is the most common occupational lung disease in the industrialized world. Over 400 agents have been described to cause occupational asthma. Specific inhalation challenge is often considered the reference method for diagnosis of occupational asthma but specific inhalation challenge as well as other diagnostic tests all generate false positive or false negative results. Definitive avoidance of the inciting agent is the preferred strategy for sensitizer-induced occupational asthma and reduction of exposure is the next best step. Immunotherapy is not currently well established and can cause systemic reactions.


An accurate diagnosis made in a timely fashion can positively impact the health and socioeconomic burden associated with occupational asthma. Newer diagnostic tools are promising, but much work needs to be done to standardize and validate these testing methods. Primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention strategies are crucial for effective management of sensitizer-induced occupational asthma.

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