Respiratory function was studied in three groups of workers employed in processing coffee. The prevalence of almost all chronic respiratory symptoms was significantly higher in coffee processors than in control workers. In each group during the Monday work shift there was a significant mean acute decrease in the maximum expiratory flow rate at 50% vital capacity (VC), ranging from 4.0% to 8.7%, and at 25% VC, ranging from 6.0% to 18.5%. Acute reductions in FEV1.0 were considerably lower, ranging from 1.3% to 2.8%. On Thursdays the acute ventilatory function changes were somewhat lower than on Mondays. Acute decreases in flow rates at low lung volumes suggest that the bronchoconstrictor effect of the dust acts mostly on smaller airways. Administration of Intal (disodium cromoglycate) before the shift considerably diminished acute reductions in flow rates. A comparison of Monday pre-shift values of ventilatory capacity in coffee workers with those in controls indicates that exposure to dust in green or roasted coffee processing may lead to persistent loss of pulmonary function.
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