Lung disease and exposures in occupational settings

Respiratory symptoms are common among dust- and fume-exposed workers

It has been suggested that about 15 in 100 cases of chronic lung disease are caused by workplace exposures. These exposures can be anything from noxious gases, dust, which are very small dry airborne particles of biological or mineral origin, and fumes, such as those generated from welding. Most of the evidence that supports this estimate comes from wealthy countries in Europe and North America. Data on the association of lung disease with occupational exposures in other regions of the world are limited.

To improve the understanding of the relationship between occupational exposures and lung disease across the world, we used data from almost 29,000 adults, aged 40 and above, who participated in the Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) study. In this study, we asked participants about their job. We asked whether they worked in any of 11 settings considered to increase their exposure to dust or fumes. We also asked them whether they had a frequent cough, recurring mucous production, shortness of breath or wheezing. In addition, each of them had their lung function measured through spirometry.

We found that respiratory symptoms, that is frequent cough, recurring mucous production, shortness of breath and wheezing, were more common among people who worked in settings considered to have higher exposure to dusts and fumes. These findings were consistent across the several world regions. Interestingly and contrary to previous reports, we saw no evidence of a link between occupational exposures and worse lung function. At any rate, actions to avoid or reduce occupational exposures are still advised.

To learn more about this study check out the open-access peer-reviewed article in the European Respiratory Journal ( This work was conducted as part of the PhD thesis of Jate Ratanachina.

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