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, farm families and ag workers are more likely to be exposed to irritants such as organic and inorganic dusts from pollens, animal dander, grain, hay, which can trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people.

Exposure to organic and inorganic dusts is likely to occur when working with or around:

  • Stock, grain, soil, hay and silage which is being moved or transported
  • Grain which is being harvested and stored Smoke is released from burn offs or bushfires
  • Pollens released from pastures, crops and trees.


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, their families and Ag workers need to act quickly as they may have longer travel distances to get medical treatment – placing them at greater health risk. For this reason it is important to have a asthma management plan in place for those individuals on the farm or workplace who are known to suffer from asthma.  This plan should at least contain

  • Individuals identified triggers
  • Strategies to minimise asthma risks
  • Individuals emergency response plan

For more information on asthma management plans and developing one for your farm and workplace go to

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

Asthma and your workplace


There are many substances in the agricultural 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

What is asthma?


Clinical care:

Asthma Foundation NSW

Asthma Emergency

National Asthma Council

First aid for asthma [PDF 483kb]


Research & reviews:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Asthma in Australia 2016

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Asthma in Australian children

Global Initiative for Asthma

Global strategy for asthma management and prevention

Fast facts
Last updated: 18th January, 2019