8. Occupational asthma and allergies

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Abstract

A diversity of airborne dusts, gases, fumes, and vapors can cause dose-related symptoms in individuals exposed in the workplace. More than 250 chemicals have been incriminated as a cause of occupational asthma (OA). The prevalence of OA ranges from 2% to 6% of the asthmatic population. Predisposing factors facilitating the development of OA include the work environment, climatic conditions, genetic proclivities, tobacco and recreational drug use, respiratory infection, and bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Pathogenetically, new-onset OA may be immunologic or nonimmunologic in origin. The immunologic variants are usually caused by high molecular-weight allergens such as grain dust and animal or fish protein. Symptoms ensue after a latent period of months to years. Nonimmunologic OA can be precipitated by a brief, high-level exposure to a potent irritant. Symptoms occur immediately or within a few hours of the exposure. In either instance, once the diagnosis is established, the worker should be removed from the workplace. If the diagnosis is made in a timely fashion, most workers experience improvement. Prevention is the best therapeutic intervention. (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003;111:S530-9.)

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