OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of occupation on respiratory symptoms in a randomly selected adult population aged 20-44 years. METHODS: It is based on the phase II sampling of the New Zealand part of the European Community respiratory health survey. 1609 people (63.9% response rate) completed a detailed respiratory questionnaire. Of those responding, 1174 (73%) underwent skin tests and 1126 (70%) attended to undergo methacholine bronchial challenge. Current occupation was recorded and a previous occupation was also recorded if it had led to respiratory problems. 21 occupational groups were used for analysis for the five definitions of asthma wheezing in the previous 12 months; symptoms related to asthma; bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR); BHR with wheezing in the previous 12 months; and BHR with symptoms related to asthma. RESULTS: Prevalence odds ratios (ORs) were significantly increased for farmers and farm workers (OR 4.16, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.33 to 13.1 for the combination of wheezing and BHR). Increased risks of prevalence of asthma were also found for laboratory technicians, food processors (other than bakers), chemical workers, and plastic and rubber workers. Workers had also been divided into high and low risk exposure categories according to relevant publications. The prevalence of wheezing was greater in the high risk group (OR 1.57, 95% CI 0.83 to 2.95) than in the low risk group. Atopy was associated with asthma, but the prevalence of atopy did not differ significantly between occupational exposure groups. The attributable risk of wheezing that occurred after the age of 15 years and that was estimated to be due to occupational exposure (based on the defined high risk group) was 1.9%, but this increased to 3.1% when farmers and food processors (other than bakers) were also included in the high risk group. CONCLUSIONS: This population based study has identified certain occupations significantly associated with combinations of asthmatic symptoms and BHR.
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