OBJECTIVES: To study the role of individual and occupational risk factors for asthma in furniture workers. METHODS: 296 workers were examined (258 men, 38 women) with a questionnaire of respiratory symptoms and diseases, baseline spirometry, bronchial provocative test with methacholine, and skin prick tests. Non-specific bronchial hyperreactivity was defined as when a provocative dose with a fall of 20% in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (PD20FEV1) was < 0.8 mg and atopy in the presence of at least one positive response to skin prick tests. Workers were subdivided into spray painters (exposed to low concentrations of diisocyanates and solvents), woodworkers (exposed to wood dusts), and assemblers (control group). RESULTS: The prevalences of attacks of shortness of breath with wheezing and dyspnoea were higher in spray painters (13.5% and 11.5% respectively) than in woodworkers (7.7% and 6.3%) or in assemblers (1.6% and 1.6%); prevalences of chronic cough, asthma, and rhinitis were also slightly but not significantly higher in spray painters and in woodworkers than in assemblers. The difference in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms among the job titles was due to the atopic subjects, who showed a higher prevalence of chronic cough, wheeze, shortness of breath with wheeze, dyspnoea, and asthma in spray painters than in the other groups. The prevalence of non-specific bronchial hyperreactivity in subjects who performed bronchial provocative tests was 17.7%, with no significant difference among groups. Asthma symptoms were significantly associated with non-specific bronchial hyperreactivity. Asthma-like symptoms plus non-specific bronchial hyperreactivity was found in 4% of assemblers, 10% of woodworkers, and 13.3% of spray painters (chi 2 = 2.6, NS). Multiple logistic analysis taking into account individual (smoke, atopy, age) and occupational (job titles) risk factors confirmed that spray painters had higher prevalence of chronic cough than assemblers, and a trend in increasing the prevalence of shortness of breath with wheeze, dyspnoea, and asthma. CONCLUSIONS: Painters in the furniture industry, particularly atopic subjects, are at higher risk of asthma-like symptoms than other job titles. In these workers asthma-like symptoms are more sensitive than non-specific bronchial hyperreactivity in detecting a negative effect of the occupational exposure.
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