Prospective study of work related respiratory symptoms in trainee bakers
- Dr Renata De Zotti, Institute of Occupational Medicine, University of Trieste, Via della Pietà 19, I-34129 Trieste, Italy email:
- Accepted 27 August 1999
OBJECTIVES To investigate the occurrence of work related respiratory symptoms and to assess the effect of atopy in a group of trainee bakers.
METHODS A prospective study of work related respiratory symptoms among 125 trainee bakers who were investigated with a questionnaire plus skin prick test with wheat flour and α-amylase allergens at baseline and then after 6, 18, and 30 months.
RESULTS At the baseline examination, four students (3.2%) complained of respiratory symptoms (cough and rhinitis) when working with flours and four were skin positive to wheat flour or α-amylase. The incidence of work related respiratory symptoms was 3.4% at 6 months, and the cumulative incidence was 4.8% and 9.0% at 18 and 30 months, respectively. The incidence of skin sensitisation to occupational allergens was 4.6% at 6 months and the cumulative incidence was 4.6% at 18 months and 10.1% at 30 months. The generalised estimating equation approach to longitudinal data showed that work related respiratory symptoms in the study population was significantly associated with a personal history of allergic disease (odds ratio (OR) 5.8, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.8 to 18.2) and skin sensitisation to wheat flour or α-amylase (OR 4.3, 95% CI 1.2 to 14.9). Atopy based on prick test was not related to the occurrence of work related respiratory symptoms over time (OR 1.1, 95% CI 0.3 to 3.8).
CONCLUSIONS Personal history of allergic disease is a predisposing factor for the development of symptoms caused by exposure to wheat flour and may be a criterion of unsuitability for starting a career as a baker. Atopy based on the skin prick test is useful for identifying subjects with allergic disease, but should not be used to exclude non-symptomatic atopic people from bakery work.