Occupational Asthma Reference

Cullinan P, Cook A, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ et al, Allergen and dust exposure as determinants of work-related symptoms and sensitisation in a cohort of flour-exposed workers; A case-control analysis, Ann Occup Hyg, 2001;45:97-103,


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Paul Cullinan, Royal Brompton Hospital, London, UK Paul Cullinan

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To estimate the incidence of specific IgE sensitization and allergic respiratory symptoms among UK bakery and flour mill workers; and to examine the roles of flour aeroallergen and total dust exposures in determining these outcomes.

A cohort of 300 new employees, without previous occupational exposure to flour, were followed prospectively for a median (range) of 40 (1–91) months. Cases—defined as those developing work-related symptoms or a positive skin prick test to flour or -amylase during follow up—were compared with controls, matched for duration of employment. Exposures to flour aeroallergen and total inhalable dust were estimated using a questionnaire and personal sampling techniques.

Incidence rates for work-related eye/nose and chest symptoms were 11.8 and 4.1 cases per 100person years (py), respectively. Fewer employees developed positive skin prick tests to flour (2.2cases per 100py) or -amylase (2.5cases per 100py). Positive skin tests to occupational allergens were more common among those with new work-related symptoms. There were clear relationships between the risks of developing work-related symptoms or a positive skin prick test and three categories of estimated exposure to total dust or flour aeroallergen. Atopic employees were more likely to develop a positive skin prick test—but not work-related symptoms. These findings were unaffected by age, sex or cigarette smoking.

In this population, many work-related symptoms which develop after first employment in modern UK bakeries or flour mills were not accompanied by evidence of IgE sensitization to flour or a-amylase. Although average dust exposures were within current occupational standards, the risks of development of upper and lower respiratory symptoms and of specific sensitization were clearly related to total dust and/or flour aeroallergen exposure. The incidence of work-related chest symptoms in the presence of a positive skin test to flour or a-amylase in this setting was approximately 1 case per 100py.

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