Asthma is the leading respiratory disease of occupational origin in industrialised countries. In France, 16 to 18% of asthma cases in adults are thought to be related to occupational exposure. Their onset forces those affected to change jobs and can lead to long periods of unemployment.
Scientists from the occupational and environmental disease consultation centre (CCPP) of Brest (Brest University Hospital) and the University of Western Brittany compared differences in exposure and industry sectors between women and men who had consulted for work-related asthma between 2001 and 2018.
A network that collects national data on occupational diseases
To do so, they referred to the data of the National Network for the Monitoring and Prevention of Occupational Diseases (RNV3P), coordinated by ANSES. This network brings together all of the 28 CCPPs in France. “These centres receive patients for consultation in particular to determine whether their disease is of occupational origin”, explains Juliette Bloch, Director of Health Alerts and Vigilance at ANSES. “The data collected are therefore not representative of the general population, but the cases recorded are well documented by experts: these data are used primarily to determine the industry sectors and working conditions of the people who have consulted and the hazards to which they have been exposed at their workstation, in addition to the diseases they have”.
Asthma associated with clearly distinct industry sectors
The study analysed 8385 cases of work-related asthma. Unlike similar work undertaken in other countries, it did not find women to be more affected than men, with women accounting for 45.5% of cases.
However, this study showed that the triggers of asthma differed considerably; this was directly related to differences in industry sectors. For example, asthma in women was primarily caused by quaternary ammonium compounds, used in particular in disinfectant products, shampoos, and cleaning products. The main industry sectors affected were hairdressing and hospital activities.
In men, the primary environmental triggers were flour dust, cyanates, and isocyanates (used mainly in herbicides, in metallurgy, and for coatings). The sectors most affected were baking and construction.
“This study was conducted with a view to informing doctors of the specific features of work-related asthma in both sexes so they can more quickly establish a possible connection between exposure, an industry sector, and the onset or aggravation of asthma” conclude the study's authors.