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Jobs can cause asthma, study finds

Up to 10 percent of asthma cases may be job related, according to recent research conducted in Barcelona, Spain   

May 26, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 AM EDT

Do you suffer asthma caused by your occupation? Up to 10 percent of asthma cases may be job related according to recent research in Barcelona, Spain. The highest risk group that was involved in the study includes farmers, painters, plastic workers and cleaners.

Asthma affects about one in 20 adults. It occurs when the bronchial tubes swell up and go into a spasm, blocking the passage of air in and out of the lungs. In many sufferers the illness is triggered by allergens, but the cause in many other sufferers is unknown. Dust mites and air pollution are also thought to aggravate the illness.

Cases of asthma are increasing by up to 50 percent every 10 years.

According to a report from the American Lung Association, occupational asthma results when the airways overreact to dusts, vapors, gases or fumes that exist in the workplace. In the early stages of occupational asthma, symptoms usually decrease or disappear during weekends or vacations, only to recur upon return to work.

Subsequently, symptoms may occur away from the work environment after exposure to common lung irritants. Once the airways have a pattern of overreacting, many common substances such as cigarette smoke, house dust or cold air may produce asthma-like symptoms.

Dr. Manolis Kogevinas and his colleagues at the Respiratory and Environmental Health Research Unit in Barcelona analyzed data from 15,637 people in 12 industrialized countries who were questioned about their asthma symptoms and their employment.

"Excess asthma risk was associated with high exposure to biological dusts, mineral dusts and gases and fumes," Kogevinas said in The Lancet medical journal. "We showed a consistent excess risk for farmers and cleaners in nearly all countries in our study," said Kogevinas. "The group of cleaners was the largest of the 16 occupational groups to show an increase in asthma of more than 30 percent."

Emil Bardana, M.D., vice president of the American College of Allergy Asthma Immunology, said he is weary of such questionnaire studies because "how people define their conditions is never as good as a face to face examination with a doctor."

"I believe the study doesn't give us many greater insights about the prevalence of the disease."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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