It is well known among patients as well as their doctors that stress is a common trigger for an asthma attack. Not only can extreme stress prompt a sudden feeling of shortness of breath, but many have experienced first-hand how anxiety will cause symptoms, including difficulting breathing, to worsen. Now, a new study suggests work-related stress, in particular the anxiety of losing your job, may cause a first-time asthma attack.

Would You Leave Your Job Due to Stress?

The economic downturn in 2008 caused a shift in the mindset of many employees, suggests an article appearing in Human Resources professionals at 316 organizations based in North America participated in a 2011 survey. When polled, a full 65 percent said employees had been working more hours than normal since the recession began, while more than half predicted employees would continue to do so over the next few years.

During the course of the survey, the HR pros were also asked: Why would high performers leave their jobs? From a list of 23 potential reasons, their number one choice was “opportunities for promotion." However, in a separate polling, 10,000 high performing employees selected “work-related stress” as the most likely reason they’d change jobs. Job-related stress didn’t even appear among the top five reasons listed by HR professionals.

Similar to the survey, German researchers became interested in the fallout of the economic downturn. For this study, they examined the answers provided by 7,000 working adults who responded to the German Socio-Economic Panel Study of 2009 through 2011. Among the questions, respondents were asked in 2009 how likely they thought it was that they might lose their job over the next two years.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered those who felt a high likelihood of losing their job tended to be slightly younger, with a lower level of education and a lower monthly income. These workers tended to be single more often than those who felt their risk of losing a job to be either low or non-existent. The respondents who feared job loss also were more likely to be on temporary contracts and more likely to have been diagnosed with depression.

Among the survey group, 105 new cases of asthma were diagnosed between 2009 and 2011. Analysis of the numbers indicated that asthma risk rose with increasing job insecurity. For every 25 percent increase in the perceived threat of job loss, the risk of asthma rose by nearly the same percentage: 24 percent. For those who believed they were very likely to lose their job, risk of asthma rose to 60 percent compared with those who believed the risk to be unlikely or non-existent.

While this is not a conclusive study, the researchers say their results are "consistent with epidemiological studies, which have shown that psychological stress in particular work related stress, may be risk factors for new onset asthma." Certainly, their findings provide "a possible explanation" for an increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms during the recent economic crisis found in the United Kingdom, as they conclude.

Source: Loerbroks A. British Medical Journal. 2014.