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Exposure to grain dust and changes in lung function.
  1. A L James,
  2. M J Zimmerman,
  3. H Ee,
  4. G Ryan,
  5. A W Musk
  1. Department of Respiratory Medicine, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre, Nedlands, Western Australia.

    Abstract

    Respiratory symptoms and lung function were assessed in 41 seasonal grain handlers and related to duration of employment and level of exposure to grain dust. Ten public works department employees, not exposed to grain dust, were examined during the same period. Respiratory symptoms, forced expired volume in one second (FEV1), and bronchial responsiveness (dose of methacholine provoking a 20% fall in FEV1-PD20) were assessed before starting work and at weekly intervals during a period of employment lasting up to four weeks. Two atopic grainhandlers with pronounced bronchial hyperresponsiveness (PD20 less than 1 mumol) and a history of asthma withdrew from the study within two weeks because they developed severe asthma. Respiratory symptoms were more frequent and more often attributed to work in the grainhandlers than in the non-exposed subjects. In the grainhandlers the FEV1 decreased by a mean (95% confidence intervals) of 321 ml (198-444) (p less than 0.05) and the mean (95% confidence interval) PD20 decreased from 20.6 mumol (10.3-41.2) to 6.0 mumol (2.8-12.5) (p less than 0.05) after one week of work. Over the next three weeks the mean FEV1 returned towards the prestudy values. The mean PD20, however, remained significantly lower than the initial value. The mean FEV1 and PD20 did not change significantly in the non-exposed subjects. The frequency of symptoms and decreases in FEV1 were greater in grainhandlers when working in jobs where total exposure to dust was greater than 20 mg/m3 than when working in jobs where it was less than 10 mg/m3. The results indicate that occupational exposure to grain dust results in respiratory symptoms and changes in lung function, including increased airway responsiveness, within the first week of exposure to grain dust at work. These changes appear to be determined by the degree of dust exposure and suggest a direct effect of grain dust on the lung in these subjects.

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