OBJECTIVES--The aim was to compare the peak expiratory flow (PEF) of welders and non-welders over a 12 hour period from the start of work on Monday. METHODS--The two study groups consisted of 20 welders and 20 non-welders, all men who had essentially never smoked, with no significant difference in age, height, ethnicity, or baseline spirometry between the groups. The PEF was measured for each welder before the start of work and 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1, 2, 4, 7, and 12 hours after the start of welding. The same method was applied to the non-welders, for whom a proxy time for the start of welding was used. RESULTS--The percentage change in baseline PEF was calculated for each subject at each of the recording times. The welder and non-welder group means for these results were significantly different at 15 minutes (p = 0.028). Also, the group mean for maximum fall in PEF (at any of the recording times during the 12 hour period) was significantly greater for the welders (p = 0.011). 50% of the welders (10/20), but only 5% of the non-welders (1/20), experienced a fall in PEF in excess of 5% (p = 0.0046). 25% of the welders (5/20) experienced drops of greater than 5% within the first 15 minutes. CONCLUSION--The results are suggestive of an immediate type reaction in welders, similar to that seen in some cases of occupational asthma, although not so severe. Studies to determine if these reactions reflect non-specific bronchial hyper-responsiveness would be useful. It is recommended that future studies also undertake breathing zone measurements to relate the response to particular constituents of the welding plume, especially the gases ozone and nitrogen dioxide.
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