• diagnosis;
  • occupational asthma;
  • severity

Background. The severity of occupational asthma (OA) at the time of diagnosis is not known. In this study we aimed to evaluate some features of the disease at the time of diagnosis, particularly looking at severity and treatment before diagnosis.

Methods: Medical records of subjects (n = 197) who had received a diagnosis of OA in six specialized centres of Northern and Central Italy in the period 1992–97 were reviewed. The severity of the disease at the time of diagnosis was determined on the basis of symptoms, peak expiratory flow (PEF, percentage predicted), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1, percentage predicted), and PEF variability, following the criteria of the National Institutes of Health and World Health Organizaton (NIH/WHO) guidelines on asthma. Medications used in the month before diagnosis were recorded.

Results: The most common etiological agents were isocyanates (41.6%), flours (19.8%), woods (9.7%) and natural rubber latex (7.6%). The level of asthma severity (AS) was mild intermittent in 23.9% patients, mild persistent in 28.9%, moderate in 41.6%, and severe in 5.6%. Asthma severity was positively associated with current or previous smoking (P < 0.05), and was not related to atopy and current exposure. A relationship with bronchial reactivity to methacholine was shown in subjects at work. Treatment before diagnosis was consistent with the NIH/WHO guidelines in only 13.2% patients, whereas 75.6% were undertreated and 11.2% were overtreated.

Conclusions: In this study we found that the majority of patients had mild asthma at the time of diagnosis and that cigarette smoking was associated with a greater severity. Moreover, the majority of patients were undertreated before etiological diagnosis.