Sixty patients with occupational asthma due to exposure to toluene diisocyanate (TDI) were re-evaluated, five years after the initial diagnosis had been confirmed by a specific bronchial provocation challenge. During both examinations the severity of asthmatic symptoms and the need for antiasthma treatment were graded and lung function tests, measurement of airway responsiveness to methacholine (PD15), and skin tests with common inhalant allergens were carried out. The evolution of the disease was established on the basis of the increase or decrease in asthmatic symptoms, requirements for medication, and FEV1 and PD15 methacholine between the two examinations. At follow up 17 patients (group A, 28.3%) had carried on working in the same environment after relocation to jobs with only occasional exposure to TDI; 15 of them used protective respiratory devices. The remaining 43 (group B, 71.7%) avoided further inhalation of TDI by moving to another sector. Group A showed a significant decrease in FEV1 and PD15 methacholine and significant increases in the severity of symptom score and requirement for medication; 13 subjects (76.5%) were worse, four (23.5%) were stable, and no one had recovered or improved. Group B showed significantly less severe symptoms and a threefold increase in PD15 methacholine; 12 subjects (28.2%) totally recovered, 10 (23.2%) improved, 16 (37.2%) were stable, and five (11.6%) were worse. In group B the duration of exposure to TDI and of symptoms before the initial diagnosis delineated the patients who recovered from those who did not improve; intermediate values in these features characterised the subjects who improved but did not recover. It is inferred that complete removal from exposure is the only effective way of preventing deterioration in patients with occupational asthma due to TDI. Early diagnosis and early removal from exposure after the onset of asthma are important factors for a favourable outcome of the disease.
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