Background: Isocyanates are the main cause of occupational asthma in most countries. Study of immunological markers of diisocyanate asthma may identify individuals at risk.
Objectives: (1) To study changes in specific antibodies to hexamethylene diisocyanates (HDI); (2) to describe the incidence of work-related respiratory symptoms in relation to changes in specific antibody levels.
Methods: Prospective study in 385 apprentice car-painters during their 18 months of training. Participants were assessed on entering and completing their training using questionnaires, methacholine challenges and measurements of HDI-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE), immunoglobulin G (IgG) and subclass 4 of IgG (IgG4) antibodies.
Results: Complete data are available for 298 subjects. 13 subjects (4.4%) reported ⩾1 new work-related lower respiratory symptoms and 19 (6.4%), ⩾1 new work-related nasal symptoms. Increases in levels of specific IgE and IgG above the 97th and 95th percentiles were significantly associated with duration of exposure. Increase in specific IgG was inversely related to incidence of work-related lower respiratory symptoms (OR = 0.001, 95% CI 0.000 to 0.09) after adjusting for relevant covariates. The rise in specific IgG4 was significantly greater in those who did not develop work-related nasal symptoms (OR = 0.09, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.7).
Conclusion: In this cohort of apprentice car-painters, a small proportion show increases in HDI-specific IgG and IgE after few months of exposure. Increases in specific IgG and IgG4 appear to have a protective effect on the incidence of work-related lower and upper respiratory symptoms, respectively. Assessment of specific antibodies to isocyanates may help identify subjects at risk of developing symptoms.
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