Every week in the UK about 10,000 people are newly diagnosed with a lung disease such as COPD, asthma or other long term respiratory conditions. In addition, around 86,000 are diagnosed with lung cancer.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a lung disease, have you ever questioned what may have caused it?
Surprisingly many people don’t. If they’ve ever smoked, they may assume that was the cause and do nothing more.
Smoking is undoubtedly a significant risk factor in the development of lung disease, but it is not the only cause.
Occupational exposure to chemicals and other contaminants at work can also be a contributing factor to many chronic lung conditions, such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) as well as malignant conditions such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
COPD is a group of progressive lung conditions which cause breathing difficulties, including chronic bronchitis (long-term inflammation of the airways) and emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs). The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit normal activities.
Because COPD is commonly diagnosed in middle-aged or older adults who smoke, many people immediately make the link between the two. However, it is estimated that around 20% of COPD cases could be caused by factors other than smoking, including exposure to chemicals and other contaminants at work. According to the Health & Safety Executive a wide variety of dust or fume have the potential to cause COPD if exposure is high and over a long period of time, for example studies suggest cadmium, grain and flour dust, mineral dust, organic dusts, silica dust and welding fumes have the potential to cause COPD.
Some of these substances are also linked to other conditions, such as occupational asthma. Occupational asthma is thought to be the most common cause of adult onset asthma and makes up around one in ten cases of asthma in adults of working age. The symptoms; cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheeze, are exactly the same as for ‘normal’ asthma, but sometimes workers may find that symptoms abate when out of the work environment. It is caused directly by your place of work and is usually the result of an allergy to something inhaled in the workplace over a period of time.
It may be difficult for doctors to identify the true cause of your symptoms and accurately diagnose the condition without questioning you about your work history and the materials you work with.
While cigarette smoking does make some workers more susceptible to lung conditions, it is important that you report any history of working with chemicals and contaminants to your doctors so they can accurately diagnose and treat your condition. Smoking may only be a contributing factor which made you susceptible to the condition, not the underlying cause.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a work-based condition or think you may have been exposed to contaminants at work which may have affected your health, you may be able to bring a claim for compensation. Contact Wolferstans for a free no obligation discussion.
Associate, Solicitor, Head of the Asbestos Team