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Sensitisation to common allergens and respiratory symptoms in endotoxin exposed workers: a pooled analysis

Abstract

Objective To test the hypotheses that current endotoxin exposure is inversely associated with allergic sensitisation and positively associated with non-allergic respiratory diseases in four occupationally exposed populations using a standardised analytical approach.

Methods Data were pooled from four epidemiological studies including 3883 Dutch and Danish employees in veterinary medicine, agriculture and power plants using biofuel. Endotoxin exposure was estimated by quantitative job-exposure matrices specific for the study populations. Dose–response relationships between exposure, IgE-mediated sensitisation to common allergens and self-reported health symptoms were assessed using logistic regression and generalised additive modelling. Adjustments were made for study, age, sex, atopic predisposition, smoking habit and farm childhood. Heterogeneity was assessed by analysis stratified by study.

Results Current endotoxin exposure was dose-dependently associated with a reduced prevalence of allergic sensitisation (ORs of 0.92, 0.81 and 0.66 for low mediate, high mediate and high exposure) and hay fever (ORs of 1.16, 0.81 and 0.58). Endotoxin exposure was a risk factor for organic dust toxic syndrome, and levels above 100 EU/m3 significantly increased the risk of chronic bronchitis (p<0.0001). Stratification by farm childhood showed no effect modification except for allergic sensitisation. Only among workers without a farm childhood, endotoxin exposure was inversely associated with allergic sensitisation. Heterogeneity was primarily present for biofuel workers.

Conclusions Occupational endotoxin exposure has a protective effect on allergic sensitisation and hay fever but increases the risk for organic dust toxic syndrome and chronic bronchitis. Endotoxin's protective effects are most clearly observed among agricultural workers.

  • Occupational endotoxin exposure
  • pooled study
  • farm childhood
  • respiration disorders
  • allergy
  • respiratory
  • organic dusts

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