Asthma and Allergies: How Companies Can Breathe Easier

July 31, 2017

About one in four Americans suffers from asthma today. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates the annual cost of asthma at about $56 billion. Direct costs, such as hospital stays, accounted for nearly $50.1 billion, while indirect costs, such as lost pay, accounted for $5.9 billion.

According to a CDC study, asthma has triggered:

  • 1.8 million emergency room visits (2011)

  • 1.3 million hospital outpatient visits with asthma as the primary diagnosis (2010)

  • 10.5 million physician office visits (2012)

  • 3,651 deaths (2014).

Asthma is a chronic disease that causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing at night or early in the morning. An asthma attack occurs when the body’s airways constrict and allow less air to get in and out of the lungs. The body also produces extra mucus during an attack, which further hinders breathing.

Treating Asthma

Although asthma is a chronic disease, sufferers can take steps to prevent or minimize the severity of asthma attacks. There’s no single strategy to prevent asthma. But a good place to start is in getting the proper diagnosis.

Employer-sponsored wellness programs can help screen employees and their dependents for asthma. Once someone receives an asthma diagnosis, they should consult a medical professional who specializes in asthma to determine whether the asthma symptoms are an irritant reaction or the much more serious allergic reaction.

Disease management programs can help your plan participants with chronic conditions better manage their health. Disease management professionals educate employees and their dependents on dealing with their health conditions. They also define care protocols and evaluate and measure effectiveness of treatment. Some health plans include disease management services. But if your company self-insures, make sure to select a vendor that is accredited with an agency such as the NCQA (National Committee for Quality Assurance), URAC (Utilization Review Accreditation Commission) or the JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations).

Preventing Asthma

From dust mites, mold spores, cockroaches and animal dander, to cotton fibers, acid anhydrides, formaldehyde and latex, the modern home and workplace are veritable minefield of substances that trigger asthma and allergies and associated medical claims.

You have no control over your employees’ homes, but you can control allergens found in the workplace. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), more than 200 substances found in the workplace can cause asthma. Millions of workers are exposed to substances that can cause allergic reactions and other respiratory problems. Using proper management, many of these problems can be avoided or eliminated.

Some of the worst potential exposures to asthma triggers occur in general merchandise stores, food stores, the furniture and lumber industries, banking, schools, trucking, warehousing and metal industries. Some of these sectors have no obvious exposures to dangerous substances—asthma can easily be caused by something as innocuous as poor indoor environmental quality. That helps explain why computer operators and financial record processors had the highest prevalence of asthma in a CDC study.

To control exposure in your workplace, the following steps can help:
  • Get workers to keep their work areas uncluttered and, if appropriate, have them dust and use HEPA-type tabletop air purifiers. Alternatively, if dust is a pervasive problem, hire a cleaning crew to regularly maintain your premises. Ensure they use nontoxic, non-irritating cleaners.

  • Give workers exposed to dusty environments or particulates dust masks or even better, fully enclosed respirators.

  • Check that the air exchange system in your building is functioning properly.

  • If the source of the asthmatic reaction has been identified, move affected workers to different parts of the building, especially in severe cases where staying in contact with the substance can be life-threatening.

For more suggestions on preventing and managing the cost of chronic disease, please contact your local Alera Group firm. Our team of wellness and benefits experts can help you to manage chronic disease in your organization.