Occupational asthma is the most common occupational lung disease in industrialised countries, and the second most common occupational lung disease reported after pneumoconioses in developing countries. The median proportion of adult cases of asthma attributable to occupational exposure is between 10% and 15%. The population attributable fraction appears to be similar in industrialised and developing countries characterised by rapid industrialisation (13–15%), but lower in less industrialised developing countries (6%). The high-risk occupations and industries associated with the development of occupational asthma vary depending on the dominant industrial sectors in a particular country. High-risk exposure to cleaning agents and pesticide exposure in developing countries appear to be as important as exposure to isocyanates, cereal flour/grain dust, welding fumes, wood dust and, more recently, hairdressing chemicals, commonly reported in industrialised countries. The reported mean annual incidence of occupational asthma in developing countries is less than 2 per 100000 population, compared to very high rates of up to 18/100000 in Scandinavian countries. While occupational asthma remains under-recognised, especially in developing countries, it remains poorly diagnosed and managed and inadequately compensated worldwide. Primary and secondary preventive strategies should be directed at controlling workplace exposures, accompanied by intense educational and managerial improvements. Appropriate treatment remains early removal from exposure to ensure that the worker has no further exposure to the causal agent, with preservation of income. However, up to one third of workers with occupational asthma continue to remain exposed to the causative agent or suffer prolonged work disruption, discrimination and risk of unemployment.
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Document Type: Regular Paper
Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Allergy Department, Fundación Jiménez Díaz, Madrid, Spain
Publication date: 01 February 2007
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