The development of isocyanate asthma is little understood. To gain more knowledge in this area, a group of 20 workers occupationally exposed to isocyanates, five subjects with clinical isocyanate asthma, and a control group of 10 people not exposed to isocyanate were examined with lung function tests and a methacholine provocation test. Forced expiratory volume in one second and tests aimed at detecting small airways obstruction such as volume of trapped gas, closing volume, and wash out volume were made. To detect abnormal airway reactivity, tests were made before and after inhalation of methacholine and of salbutamol. A significant increased reactivity to methacholine in the exposed and asthma groups was seen compared with the control group as measured by volume of trapped gas. The increase was reversed by inhaling salbutamol. In neither group could a statistically significant reaction be shown in the large airways. The study group had increased small airways reactivity of the same magnitude as the group with isocyanate asthma. The subjects in the study group had no clinical symptoms or spirometric abnormalities. The volume of trapped gas in combination with methacholine seems to disclose significantly altered reactivity of the small airways in workers exposed to isocyanate with no subjective symptoms of disease.
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