Could Your Respiratory Symptoms Be Work-Related?

When a chronic medical condition is a result of your work environment, it may be considered an occupational disease.  Any worker in Massachusetts needs to know that any exposures to toxins, poor air quality, and lack of proper ergonomics can all contribute to a vast array of debilitating medical conditions and diseases. Tracing the signs and symptoms back to the work environment can be challenging, as many occupational diseases can also be experienced by the general public. However, approximately 860,000 illnesses and 60,300 fatalities are thought to be a result of workplace environments annually in the United States. Recent studies show that 17% of hospital and primary care patients believe their illness is related to harmful exposure in their place of employment. Of these patients, an estimated 10% are officially diagnosed with a work-related medical condition. Because early diagnosis of many illnesses can reduce chances of disability or death, understanding potential hazards you may be exposed to is important.

Respiratory Diseases

Inhalation of toxins can cause a variety of lung conditions and is a concern in many different industries. Asthma, rhino-sinusitis, and bronchitis are frequently cited as work-related medical issues. Pneumoconiosis is a general, umbrella term referring to various types of reactions to the inhalation of dust. The number of fatalities from pneumoconiosis was 260,000 in 2013.


Asbestosis is a type of pneumoconiosis caused by extended or intensive exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral made of long thin fibrous crystals that irritate the tissues in the lungs. Occupational exposure can occur in manufacturing and mining work, as well asbestos removal. Severe shortness of breath and dry coughing are common symptoms. Risks of long-term inhalation can lead to malignant cancers and mesothelioma. In 2013, asbestosis resulted in 24,000 fatalities in the United States.


Sometimes referred to as Potter’s Rot, silicosis is another type of pneumoconiosis caused by exposure to crystalline silica dust. Quartz is one of the most common forms of silica. Jobs with a high rate of silica exposure include sandblasting operations using silica sand for blasting, any position that drills, grinds, blasts, or saws concrete, and masonry work or any job in the quartz manufacturing or mining industry. Glass manufacturing, pottery workers, shipbuilders, and railroad workers are also at risk. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, fever and cyanosis (blueish skin). In 2013, an estimated 46,000 fatalities occurred due to silicosis.


Occupational asthma has most recently been linked to mold, allergens, respiratory irritants, or other elements such as isocyanates.

  • Occupational allergens can cause a wide range of reactions. From grain, hay, pollen, and sod in the farming and landscaping industry to poor ventilation from re-circulated air in office buildings, allergens can become chronic and debilitating.
  • Respiratory irritants range from sulfur dioxide in power plants and industrial facilities to paper dust and fumes from office printers and photocopy machines.
  • Isocyanates are chemicals found in certain paints and varnishes, flexible and rigid foams, polyurethane products, and insulation materials. The auto industry has increased use of isocyanate materials in recent years. These chemicals irritate mucous membranes in the respiratory and intestinal tract, as well as the eyes. Symptoms include nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, wheezing, common cold symptoms, and tightness of the chest.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Massachusetts’ Work Injury Attorneys

If you are suffering from a chronic medical condition that you think is work-related, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and lost wages. Toxins in the work environment can lead to debilitating and life-threatening health problems. Altman & Altman, LLP and our team of Massachusetts workers compensation lawyers can help you determine how workers’ compensation can benefit you. Our attorneys are committed to treating every client as if they are our one and only. Serving Boston and all of Massachusetts, our attorneys are prepared to examine every detail of your case and aggressively pursue your the compensation you deserve. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free consultation.

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