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Warning: Your job may give you asthma

By Charnicia Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Work-related asthma is fast becoming one of the most commonly diagnosed occupational respiratory diseases in this country, and people who work in certain industries may run a higher risk than others, new study findings show.

An analysis of survey responses from nearly 21,000 adults revealed that men and women who work in printing or publishing, furniture or lumber, health care, and entertainment and recreation, may be most likely to be diagnosed with asthma, as are those who work for automobile dealers and gas stations.

"This study stresses that workers employed in these industries need to be informed by the employer and aware that they are potentially exposed to asthmagens and the seriousness of their effect," study author Dr. Ki Moon Bang, of the West Virginia-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told Reuters Health.

In their study, Bang and colleagues reviewed information from 20,991 men and women who participated in the 2001 National Health Interview survey, to identify the industries associated with an increased risk of asthma.

Overall, 6.5 percent of survey respondents reported having been diagnosed with asthma. This represents about 8.6 million individuals among 133 million adult workers in the United States, the researchers report in this month's issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Asthma was most prevalent among whites and females, and among automobile dealers, gasoline station workers and those in the durable goods field.

The industries associated with a greater risk of asthma varied by race, the report indicates.

White men who worked in printing, publishing and allied industries, were 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than those in the comparison group who worked in finance, public administration, communication and other office-related industries. The increased risk of asthma was possibly due to the men's exposure to acrylic resins, dyes, glues and sealants at their workplace, the report indicates.

White women who worked in the health care industry were 30 percent more likely than their peers in the comparison group to be diagnosed with asthma, possibly due to their exposure to certain detergents, latex and other agents.

On the other hand, black women who worked in the furniture, lumber and wood industry had a nearly six-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with asthma in comparison to their peers, potentially due to their exposure to formaldehyde, wood dust and other agents. Those who worked in the entertainment and recreation industry were four times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, possibly because of their exposure to certain art materials, cleaning chemicals, and photographic development chemicals.

Black men who worked in the construction industry or in chemicals and allied products had a more than five-fold increased of being diagnosed with the condition, while those who worked in durable goods; furniture, lumber and wood; eating and drinking places; and other personal services, respectively, were up to four times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than were their peers.

Men and women who worked in elementary, secondary schools, and colleges and those who worked in the utilities and sanitary industry were also at an increased risk for asthma, the researchers note.

According to the American Thoracic Society, an estimated 15 percent of all adult cases of asthma may be related to the workplace. Based on this estimate, Bang and colleagues write, approximately 1.3 million adult asthma cases could be attributed to occupational exposure.

"This article should increase awareness among employers and workers about increased risk of asthma in specific industries," Bang told Reuters Health.

The team concludes that "this information helps to target workplaces where detailed investigations for prevention and control may be appropriate."

SOURCE: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, June 2005.

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