Why Healthcare Workers Have the Highest Prevalence of Asthma
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put out their National Health Interview Survey, and it has shown a surprising result: healthcare workers are more likely than those in any other industry to suffer from allergies. It is often assumed that exposure to the environmental agents associated with agriculture, manufacturing, and especially mining could sensitize workers and create allergic conditions like asthma in those working in those industries. The CDC found that healthcare workers have asthma more frequently than those in these other industries was, therefore, an unexpected finding for many healthcare stakeholders.
According to the CDC data, healthcare and social assistance workers experienced asthma at a rate of 8.8%, whereas 6.1 % of those working in mining, 5.4% of those working in manufacturing, and 5.2% of those working in agriculture experience asthma. The report highlighted that asthma currently occurs most in workers between the age of 18 and 24, women, non-Hispanic African Americans, those with more than a high school education, and those who live below the poverty line.
The report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report also put forth that healthcare workers were more likely than workers in other industries to not only be diagnosed with asthma but to experience asthma attacks and to end up in the emergency room as a result of their asthma. The reasons for the heightened risk for asthma among healthcare workers may have to do with some of the sterilization procedures with which they are involved and the associated environmental stimuli, including powdered latex gloves and disinfecting products. Aerolized medications may too play a role.
This revelation of the prevalence of asthma among healthcare workers is a first step toward determining how to protect these workers and their health. More research is needed to understand exactly why employees in the healthcare field are more likely to have asthma, and as these reasons are clarified, targeted research strategies should enable us to find ways to intervene such that we can reduce this risk among the large healthcare worker population.