21 June 2019

Is your work environment increasing your risk of developing lung disease?

Researchers claim that certain work environments are possibly increasing employees' risk of developing different lung diseases.

A study reported that one in 10 people suffering from a range of non-cancerous lung diseases may be ill due to inhaling gas, vapours, fumes or dust in the workplace.

The study, a joint statement by American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society, was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

A range of respiratory diseases

Thirteen clinical and research experts from the two respiratory societies analysed scores of studies on the connections between occupational hazards and lung disease.

These studies were conducted around the world over more than two decades. The authors included a range of respiratory diseases, ranging from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) to scarring fibrosis and other infections.

Authors of the study estimated the occupational burden of the various lung diseases:

  • Tuberculosis (in silica dust-exposed workers) – 2%
  • Community-acquired pneumonia (in working-age adults) –10%
  • Chronic bronchitis – 13%
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) – 14%
  • Asthma – 16%
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis – 19%
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – 26%
  • Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis – 29%
  • Sarcoidosis and other granulomatous disease – 30%

Cancers of the lung and pleura were not studied. Similarly, they did not include a burden estimate for asbestosis, silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis (black lung), as those conditions are entirely work-related. 

Prevention of these diseases

Paul D. Blanc, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California San Francisco said, "The role of occupational factors in most lung disease is under-recognised. Failure to appreciate the importance of work-related factors in such conditions impedes diagnosis, treatment and most importantly, prevention of further disease."

Blanc also said that some of these findings, particularly the findings for COPD and asthma, reinforce burden estimates. He added that the authors hope that the statement will urge clinicians to consider the respiratory condition and the patients' occupation so that they will "move policy makers to take seriously the prevention of such diseases among working women and men around the globe".

Image credit: iStock