The office environment can cause asthma


New research presented today (September 6, 2021) at the ERS International Congress [1] suggests that the seemingly harmless office environment may cause asthma in some workers.

The study found a variety of triggers ranging from printer toner and cleaning products to poor ventilation and mold circulating in the air conditioning. He also found that employees with asthma caused by office work were quitting their jobs, and if employers didn’t make changes to tackle the problem, it was more common.

Researchers say their work provides another reason for allowing home work to continue beyond COVID-19 restrictions, to benefit the health of office workers and help businesses retain staff.

The study was presented by Dr Christopher Huntley of the Birmingham Regional Occupational Lung Disease Service at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust in the UK. He said: “Any work environment can induce occupational asthma if it contains a respiratory sensitizer. This is a substance that triggers an irreversible allergic reaction, such as paint spray or dust. We generally think of an office as a safe environment, so it is possible that when asthma is diagnosed in office workers, work causes are overlooked. As a result, there has been very little research on this issue.

“However, we have increasingly diagnosed cases of occupational asthma in patients who work in offices, as well as clusters of cases in specific offices.”

Dr Huntley and his colleagues studied the cases of 47 office workers with occupational asthma who were reported to the Birmingham Regional Occupational Lung Disease Service. The majority had had their asthma confirmed by serial peak flow monitoring. This measures the fastest rate that patients can breathe air from their lungs. Seventeen of the patients had also been tested and had lungs that responded strongly to an airway sensitivity test.

Researchers identified three main categories that were causes of occupational asthma in office workers. These are triggers found inside the office (printer toner, tile adhesive, mold and cleaning products), triggers from the office ventilation system (mold in air conditioning ducts and poorly installed ventilation) and triggers in the immediate environment of the office (nearby workshops, painting and vehicle fumes).

They also looked at whether employers had made any adjustments to support office workers with occupational asthma and what workers did as a result. Their most striking finding is that when employers don’t take action, workers are 100 times more likely to quit.

Dr Huntley said: ‘Although we only looked at the patients who were referred to our department and it was a relatively small study, it was still one of the largest. studies reporting occupational asthma in office workers. We’ve discovered a few key causes to be aware of in an office environment, but there are sure to be more.

“If a worker develops occupational asthma, adjustments in the workplace can and should be made to improve asthma symptoms and help retain staff. “

Dr Huntley says there have been fewer new referrals for patients with occupational asthma during COVID-19 restrictions and those who already have occupational asthma have seen improvements while working from home. He adds: “Homework has been helpful for patients both in making their diagnosis and as a form of non-pharmacological treatment. Allowing workers with occupational asthma to continue working from home can help keep office workers in their jobs as they need fewer sick days. “

Arzu Yorgancıoğlu, who was not involved in the study, is Chairman of the Defense Council of the European Respiratory Society and Professor of Respirology at Celal Bayar University in Turkey. She said: “Because we tend to view office environments as relatively safe, compared to other professional environments where exposure to pollutants can occur, it is likely that there are more patients suffering. undiagnosed office-related asthma.

“For office workers with asthma who experience an unexplained deterioration in their symptoms, this study underscores the importance of identifying and eliminating any potential occupational triggers. When we see clusters of work-related asthma in offices, it is essential to investigate the underlying cause, as the causes can be surprising. “

Huntley C. et al. Occupational asthma in office workers: a cross-sectional study. Presented at the ERS International Congress. September 6, 2021. PA1904

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