Study participants who thought they were very likely to lose their jobs in the next 2 years showed a 60% increased risk of developing first-time asthma, compared with those who rated the risk of job loss as low or non-existent.
Dr. Jian Li, of the Institute of Occupational and Social Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf, and colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Because their study was an observational study, and thus not designed to establish cause and effect, the researchers cannot say for sure that worrying about job loss triggers first-time asthma.
However, they note that their findings are "consistent with epidemiological studies, which have shown that psychological stress in particular work related stress, may be risk factors for new onset asthma."
According to the World Health Organization, around 235 million people worldwide have asthma, a major noncommunicable disease whose symptoms include breathlessness and wheezing, and which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.
Analysis showed risk of first-time asthma rose in line with job insecurity
For their study, the team analyzed data collected in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, which surveys a representative sample of the adult German working population every year.
The data they analyzed came from just over 7,000 working adults who completed the survey in 2009 and 2011, when questions about asthma were included. This is also the period of severe economic downturn across Europe.
The data showed that between 2009 and 2011, there were 105 cases of new-onset asthma among the respondents. Half of the cases occurred among women.
In 2009, all respondents were asked about the likelihood of them losing their jobs over the next 2 years.
The researchers noted that the respondents who saw the likelihood of job loss over the next 2 years as high, tended to be younger, on lower incomes, with fewer years of education, and more likely to be single, compared to those who rated the likelihood of job loss as low or non-existent.
They also found the respondents who felt less secure about their jobs tended to exclude those on permanent contracts and were more likely to have been diagnosed with depression.
In a further analysis, after ruling out various factors like age, income, gender, depression and lifestyle, the team found the risk of developing asthma for the first time tended to rise in line with job insecurity.
They found every 25% increase in perceived likelihood of job loss was tied to a 24% increased risk of being diagnosed with new-onset asthma.
Those who thought they were very likely to lose their jobs in the next 2 years showed a 60% increased risk of developing first-time asthma, compared to those who rated the risk of job loss as low or non-existent.
The researchers also suggest their findings may "provide a possible explanation for the increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms during the recent economic crisis in the UK."
Meanwhile, in another study reported in August 2014, Medical News Today learned how stress in pregnancy may be linked to offspring's asthma risk. In that study, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in the US, found if female mice are stressed in pregnancy, their pups have an increased risk of allergy-induced asthma.