Respiratory problems: Occupational and environmental exposures

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Background: The respiratory tract comes into contact with approximately 14 000 litres of air during a standard working week. The quality of the air we breathe has major implications for our respiratory health. Any part of the respiratory tract, from the nose to the alveoli, may be adversely affected by exposure to airborne contaminants. Objective: This article outlines some common occupational and environmental exposures that can lead to respiratory problems. Discussion: Some of the effects of exposures may be immediate, whereas others such as asbestos-related lung disease may not present for many decades. Airborne contaminants may be the primary cause of respiratory disease or can exacerbate pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Clinicians should have a high index of suspicion and question their patients with breathing problems about occupational and environmental exposures, especially in the setting of new onset symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-860
Number of pages5
JournalAustralian Family Physician
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Air pollutants
  • Occupational
  • Occupational health
  • Respiratory tract diseases

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