Background An increasing number of allergic complaints appear to have occurred among bell pepper greenhouse employees.
Objective The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of work-related allergic symptoms and the prevalence of sensitization to specific occupational allergens and its determinants.
Methods We studied 472 employees who were invited to answer an extensive questionnaire and to be tested on location with inhalant allergens and home-made extracts of the bell pepper plant. In addition, peak expiratory flow monitoring and RASTs were performed.
Results Work-related symptoms were reported in 53.8% of all cases. Sensitization to the bell pepper plant was found in 35.4%. Positive reactions to leaf, stem and/or juice, however, were associated in nearly 90% with sensitization to pollen, which appeared to be most important allergen of the plant. Sensitization to the bell pepper plant and inhalant atopy were considered the most important risk factors for the occurrence of work-related symptoms of the upper airways (PRR 2.63, CI 2.11–3.25 and PRR 2.25, CI 1.82–2.79) as well as of the lower airways (PRR 4.08, CI 2.38–7.00 and PRR 3.16, CI 1.87–5.33).
Conclusion There is a surprisingly high prevalence of work-related respiratory symptoms (53.8%) in bell pepper horticulture. In two-thirds of the employees, symptoms at work were associated with an IgE-mediated allergy due to the high and chronic exposure to bell pepper pollen. Complaints at work without specific sensitization to bell pepper pollen can be caused by non-specific hyper-reactivity or atopy to other occupational allergens. The extent of this occupational allergy has important consequences for the health care of this large, still growing occupational group.