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Occupational formalin asthma.
  1. D J Hendrick,
  2. D J Lane


    Hypersensitivity to formalin used to sterilise artificial kidney machines was shown by inhalation provocation tests to be responsible for attacks of wheezing accompanied by productive cough in two members of the nursing staff of a haemodialysis unit. Three further members of the staff of 28 who were continually exposed to this substance occupationally had developed similar recurrent but less frequent episodes since joining the unit. Two underwent inhalation provocation tests with formalin which did not reproduce these symptoms.Single episodes of these symptoms had been noted by three additional staff members so that altogether eight (29%) had experienced attacks described as bronchitic since becoming exposed to formalin. We suggest that, while exposure to formalin did not seem to be directly responsible in all cases, it might have increased susceptibility to other provoking agents or induced a hyper-reactive responsiveness of the airways. The responses observed in the two nurses after inhalation provocation tests with fromalin were predominantly of airways obstruction. Wheezing began between two and three hours after exposure, and peak expiratory flow rates fell maximally by approximately 50%. Reactions persisted for 10 hours to 10 days depending on the exposure dose. A productive cough was a prominent feature. The sputum appeared to be mucopurulent, but culture produced a scanty growth of Haemophilus influenzae only, together with upper respiratory tract commensals. The cellular content was not homogeneous, neutrophil leucocytes and eosinophil leucocoytes variably dominating. Variable responses of neutrophil and eosinophil leucocytes were also seen in the peripheral blood.

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