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 results in increased mucous production and bronchospasm 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.

Farming men, women, children and agricultural 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, farming men, women, children and agricultural workers need to act quickly as they may have longer travel distances to seek 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 CLICK HERE

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 week’s supply of medication if you are susceptible to asthma attacks.

To learn more about Asthma emergency first aid visit Better Health Channel.

There are many allergens 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.

To find out more on Asthma in your workplace visit Better Health Channel

Thunderstorm asthma

Thunderstorm asthma can happen suddenly to individuals susceptible to asthma and or hay fever. These individuals need to take extra precautions particularly during the spring and summer seasons when there is a lot of pollens in the air and weather conditions are hot, dry, windy, wet and stormy.

When rain droplets crash into airborne pollen, the pollen grains are broken into tiny particles. These particles can then get further and deeper inside your lungs than the larger pollen grains, and trigger a severe asthma response.

To find out more on asthma and thunderstorm asthma visit Better Health Channel

Fast facts – Asthma:

  • Asthma is a respiratory disease that affects the small air ways of the lung. Asthma can be controlled with appropriate medication.
  • Attacks can be triggered by dust, grains, smoke and pollens.
  • Attacks can be prevented if strategies to reduce exposures to irritants and triggers are in place.
  • People with asthma who live or work on a farm should have a personal asthma management plan.
  • If someone has an asthma attack, give 4 puffs of their blue or grey reliever medication with 4 separate breaths over 4 minutes
  • Call triple zero (000) immediately if the person is finding it hard to breath, cannot talk. Keep giving 4 puffs of reliever every 4 minutes until medical assistance arrives

References used for this topic page

More information:

National Asthma Council
What is asthma?

National Asthma Council
What is Thumderstorm Asthma?

Clinical care:

National Asthma Council
Managing acute asthma in clinical settings
Managing asthma in children
Asthma First Aid

Research & reviews:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Asthma in Australia 2019

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Asthma in Australian children

Global Initiative for Asthma
Global strategy for asthma management and prevention