A questionnaire survey of over 400 workers handling reactive dyes showed that over 15% had work related respiratory or nasal symptoms. Forty nine employees with symptoms were referred to chest clinics for detailed assessment. It was considered that in 19 the symptoms could be attributed to an irritant response to a variety of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid vapour, sulphur dioxide, and reactive dyes. Symptoms in 24 were attributed to an allergic reaction to a specific agent; in most (21) to one or more reactive dyes. Two patterns of allergic lower respiratory symptoms were identified; an immediate response of short duration and a longer lasting response, usually of several hours, sometimes accompanied by nocturnal asthma. A radioallergosorbent test (RAST) screen containing the most commonly used reactive dyes was used to detect specific IgE. Allergic symptoms to reactive dyes were strongly associated with specific IgE (17/21 employees) and atopy (18/21). Irritant symptoms were also associated with atopy (13/19) but only weakly associated with specific IgE (7/19).
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