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Certain Jobs May Still Pose Risk for Asthma

Study cites chemical exposures that may affect breathing of plumbers, hair stylists and more

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to chemicals at work causes many cases of asthma, especially for plumbers, spray painters and hair stylists, a new study finds.

Researchers in Sweden found many workers are exposed to toxic substances while doing their jobs despite public warnings that they use protective equipment.

The international study involved more than 13,000 adults in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Estonia. Cases of asthma -- one of the most common adult diseases -- were tracked from 1980 to 2000. The total incidence of new cases was 1.3 asthma per 1,000 men, and 2.4 per 1,000 women, the study showed.

Seven percent of the asthma cases among women and up to 14 percent among men were linked to the workplace, the researchers recently reported online in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene.

"To be able to work proactively, it is essential to show which substances at work increase the risk of asthma and which occupations are high-risk," Linnea Lillienberg, a researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, said in a university news release.

The study revealed the following workers are at greater risk for asthma because of toxic-chemical exposure on the job:

  • spray painters exposed to compounds called diisocyanates in paint
  • plumbers who handle adhesives and foam insulation
  • cleaners who come into contact with detergents
  • health care and social services personnel who use latex gloves and are exposed to detergents
  • food and tobacco industry workers exposed to certain proteins
  • hair stylists who handle chemicals in bleach
  • nail beauticians who use fast-acting glue

"Some people are more susceptible than others," added Lillienberg. "For example, people with hay fever have asthma more often if they're exposed to proteins from plants and animals. But if we look at individuals with no increased susceptibility, the risk was greater among those who were exposed to epoxy and diisocyanates, which are found in glue, varnish and foam plastic. Among women without hay fever, the risk was particularly elevated among those who handled detergents."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on asthma.


SOURCE: University of Gothenburg, news release, January 2013

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