The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker have more in common than a romp in the tub. People in these and a much wider variety of occupations than often suspected are at risk of developing respiratory injury or disease in the work place, says a University of Rochester physician in an article in the Feb. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"It used to be that mainly coal miners or people who worked with asbestos were the ones who came to doctors with lung disease from the work place," says author William Beckett, M.D., professor of environmental medicine. "But today, conventional work places like hospitals or construction sites are just as likely to cause respiratory disease. There's been a tremendous amount of new information pouring out in recent years; doctors may see such patients and not realize the cause."
Respiratory problems caused by the work place can range from a stuffy nose, sinusitis or laryngitis, all the way to allergies, asthma, emphysema and lung cancer. The butcher (fumes from plastic wrap), the baker (mites and fungi hitching a ride on grain dust), and the candlestick-maker (fumes) mark just a few of the occupations that can cause respiratory distress. More common culprits include latex gloves, dust kicked up during construction, and everyday cleaning solutions.
While employees in certain occupations know the risks, others don't. The latter group often includes construction workers, says Beckett. Just as coal miners are at risk of developing respiratory diseases from dust, so are construction workers who break down rocks and move earth as part of highway or building construction.
In hospital or pharmaceutical laboratories, employees have higher rates of asthma because of the latex gloves they wear. A physician at the University of Toronto Medical Center has found that it's the cornstarch powder, added to make the gloves easier to pull on and off, that causes the problem by carrying latex particles int
Contact: Tom Rickey
University of Rochester