Last reviewed 7 August 2019

Researchers have warned that many asthma sufferers are emotionally affected and unable to work to their full potential due to their symptoms but employers can help by providing an asthma-friendly working environment.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 235 million people around the world suffer from asthma but little is known about the impact of asthma on people's ability to work.

Recently, new research, published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy, surveyed over 1500 symptomatic asthma patients across six countries (in the UK, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan and Spain) and found that, on average, three out of four employees could not work to their full potential.

Furthermore, the survey indicated that asthma impacted the respondent's emotional wellbeing, including causing mental strain and embarrassment.

The study results found that, on average, up to one-tenth of work hours were missed in a single week because of workers' asthma symptoms.

In addition, around three-quarters of the workers (74%) reported being unable to work to their full potential because of their asthma, while 42% of workers experienced a “prominent” reduction in productivity.

Dr Gruffydd-Jones said, “What struck us most was the emotional response to asthma in the workplace. A significant number of patients felt guilt, shame and embarrassment when using inhalers at work."

Solutions, Dr Gruffydd-Jones argued, will need a co-ordinated approach by clinicians, employers and occupational health teams.

Dr Gruffydd-Jones said, "Clinicians must ask patients about the impact of asthma on their work and employers must encourage their workers to seek medical help and provide an asthma-friendly environment.

"This requires not only providing appropriate environmental controls but also a working environment that minimises embarrassment, such as allowing to staff to move out of the immediate work environment to use their inhalers."