A hand-arm vibration syndrome occurs in some workers who use hand held vibrating tools. It is recognised to consist of white fingers, diffusely distributed finger neuropathy, pain in the arm and hand, and a small excess risk of osteoarthrosis from percussion to the wrist and elbow. Carpal tunnel syndrome is mainly due to ergonomic factors other than vibration, but certain factors related to vibration may contribute to its development. A decrease in muscle power induced by vibration, and excessive hearing deficit have been postulated. The assessment of a disorder suspected of being induced by vibration includes deciding whether there is a disorder and, if so, whether the symptoms can be caused by vibration. To decide whether the symptoms can be caused by vibration epidemiological documentation and pathogenically reasonable theories must exist. A causal diagnosis finally requires and epidemiological decision whether or not the factual exposure has elicited the patient's symptoms. Epidemiological data on the quantitative association between vibration and excessive risks of white fingers and diffusely distributed neuropathy are incomplete. The symptomatic diagnosis of white fingers is still mainly based on anamnestic information. Available laboratory tests are incapable of grading the severity of individual cases. Recording the finger systolic blood pressure during cold provocation is a method of symptomatic diagnosis with reasonable levels of specificity, sensitivity, and predictive value. For diffusely distributed neuropathy these levels are lower than desired. Electrodiagnostic tests for carpal tunnel syndrome have sufficient validity. Proper exposure evaluation must be based on an appreciation of the character of the vibration as well as effective duration and intermittency. If this is not taken into account, the number of hours of exposure and intensity of vibration are likely to be non-commensurable variables, and the simple product of them is a questionable dose measure. Separate models for risk evaluation of vascular and neurological disorders related to work with different tools and processes will have to be established. Ongoing research to obtain further data on exposure-response relations for neurological disturbances begins to yield encouraging results.
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