Asthma is a lung condition which causes the air passages (bronchi) of the lungs to become inflamed and narrow, making it hard to breathe. Inflammation of the airways, results in an increase of mucous being produced and spasming of the airways. Asthma can be a life threatening condition. Reducing exposure to irritants and triggers plays an important role in preventing an attack in the susceptible person.

Farmers and farm families are more likely to be exposed to organic and inorganic dusts (from pollens, animal dander, grain, hay, which can irritate airways and trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people.

Organic and inorganic dusts are likely to be released when:

  • Stock, grain, soil, hay and silage is moved or transported
  • Grain is harvested and stored
  • Pollens are released from pastures

Smoke is released from burn offs or bushfiresHose down dusty areas such as sheep or cattle yards prior to mustering stock to reduce the amount of dust

The most common signs of asthma are:

  • Coughing, especially at night, during exercise or when laughing.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound in your chest when breathing, especially when exhaling)

Asthma attacks can develop over a few minutes or a few days. In an emergency situation, farmers and their families can be at greater health risk as they may have to travel long distances to get medical treatment.

In all cases, asthma becomes a medical emergency if the person finds it increasingly difficult to breathe, has severe chest tightness, feels distressed and they are sucking in their throat and their ribs are retracting (pulling in). Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance in an emergency.

It is vital to have a weeks supply of medication if you are susceptible to asthma attacks.

To learn more about Asthma first aid

To find out more on Asthma and allergens

There are many substances in the workplace that may irritate and cause asthma to develop in a previously healthy person or trigger asthma symptoms in someone that already has asthma. Working together with your employer to develop strategies to reduce your exposure to irritants and triggers in the workplace is crucial.

Find out more Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:
National Asthma Council
Clinical care:
Asthma Foundation NSW
National Asthma Council

First aid for asthma [PDF 483kb]

Research & reviews:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Fast facts
Last updated: 11th December, 2017