Can I receive workers’ comp for occupational asthma in Georgia?
While asthma is common in both childhood and adulthood, breathing disorders and respiratory diseases sometimes happen as a direct result of your exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):
“Nearly 30 percent of COPD and adult asthma may be attributable to occupational exposure. Occupational asthma is now the most frequent occupational respiratory disease diagnosis. More than 20 million U.S. workers are exposed to substances that can cause airway diseases.”
If your job caused occupational asthma or worsened a pre-existing condition, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition that causes a person’s airways to swell and narrow. As a result, the sufferer may experience the production of additional mucus. Consequently, they may find it difficult to breathe and endure coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
While there is currently no cure for asthma, it’s possible to control the symptoms. Common symptoms may include:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing upon exhaling
- Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath
- Wheezing or coughing attacks that grow worse when ill
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) encompasses 2 conditions: obstructive chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both conditions cause airways to become blocked or obstructed.
Obstructive chronic bronchitis is the result of continual attacks by pollutants. As a result, the airways become inflamed and fill with mucus.
Emphysema occurs when the small air sacs inside the bronchial tubes become destroyed or damaged. As a result, the lungs experience difficulty in exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen.
Obstructive chronic bronchitis and emphysema may occur concurrently but not always. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Chronic cough
- Weight loss
How does occupational asthma differ from childhood asthma?
Asthma that develops in the workplace is the result of breathing in substances such as toxic chemicals, dust, animal fur and fumes. It’s entirely possible for someone who has never experienced asthma to develop occupational asthma during the course of work.
Additionally, someone who suffered from childhood asthma but later “outgrew” it may notice that their asthma has returned after being exposed to certain chemicals or agents in the workplace. Those with a family history of asthma and allergies may be more susceptible to developing occupational COPD and asthma; however, it’s important to understand that even someone without such a family history and non-smokers may develop either of these conditions from exposure in the workplace.
It may be some time before symptoms of occupational asthma appear, since the immune system can gradually develop a sensitivity to triggers in the workplace. However, once a worker does develop a sensitivity, symptoms will soon follow.
Which jobs and industries have higher rates of occupational asthma and COPD?
Certain industries are more prone to their employees developing work-related COPD and asthma, including:
- Pottery and ceramic workers
- Petroleum workers
What can you do if you’re diagnosed with occupational asthma or COPD?
If you or a loved one recently developed work-related COPD, asthma or another airway disease, you may naturally have questions about what to do and what benefits may be available. Under Georgia workers’ compensation laws, those who are injured or who become ill as a result of their occupation usually have the right to file a claim for benefits. Such benefits may include not only payment for lost wages but also medical treatment.
The challenge for occupational asthma claims, however, is often to prove that the disease is the direct result of your job duties. The burden is often on the employee to demonstrate that they were exposed to certain chemicals or irritants as part of their employment.
One method for proving this is to document that symptoms appear worse while at work than when not at work. Many times, employees must also demonstrate that the number of those affected is significantly greater in a particular occupation or industry than within the general population.
Testing to obtain a diagnosis may include:
- CT scans or chest x-rays
- Pulmonary function tests
- Lung tissue biopsies
- Gas exchange function testing
- Airway examination
Once you’ve been diagnosed with COPD or occupational asthma, the attending physician can then begin treatment, which may include the use of an oxygen machine, medication or surgery.
Since asthma or COPD may develop or even become worse over a period of time, it’s important that you let your employer know as soon as you are diagnosed. It can take years for symptoms of either condition to develop, so it’s important that you don’t delay in informing your employer and beginning the process of filing a workers’ comp claim.
Unfortunately, it’s common for workers’ compensation insurance providers to initially deny claims for occupational asthma and COPD. This is particularly common among workers who previously suffered from pediatric asthma. The insurance company may attempt to claim that the worker has a previously existing condition as part of the denial of the claim—or they may try to demonstrate that the condition is not linked to your occupational duties.
If you believe you’ve developed occupational asthma, you should consult an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation attorney at Gerber & Holder Law. We’ll walk you through the process of filing a claim and provide our expertise if your claim is denied.