OBJECTIVES: To study the airway response and its mechanism to welding fumes in six welders with respiratory symptoms. METHODS: Methacholine and welding challenge tests were carried out. The concentration of welding fumes during the exposure test was measured. On two subjects who developed bronchoconstricition to welding challenge, additional tests were carried out including prick, patch, and inhalation challenges with metal salt solutions. RESULTS: Three subjects developed immediate bronchial reaction to exposure to welding fume; one to mild steel and stainless steel welding, another to mild steel and galvanised welding, and one only to galvanised welding. They all had a moderate to pronounced degree of non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness. The concentration of fumes during welding tests, particularly to galvanised welding, was high. An inhalation challenge test with zinc chloride salt solution in two subjects who reacted to galvanised welding was negative. Prick and patch tests with zinc chloride were also negative. CONCLUSION: The airway response to welding in these subjects is non-specific and is due to irritation rather than to sensitisation.
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