Background: This prospective study describes the incidence, risk factors and natural history of occupational respiratory allergy in apprentice bakers.
Methods: Two hundred and eighty-seven apprentice bakers were examined using a questionnaire, skin prick tests (SPTs) to common and occupational allergens, evaluation of total serum IgE level and specific anti-flour and α-amylase IgE, before, 1 year and 2 years after the onset of vocational training. To diagnose occupational respiratory disease, spirometry, histamine and allergen-specific inhalation challenge tests were performed.
Results: The incidence of work-related chest symptoms was 4.2% in the first year and 8.6% in the second year of exposure. Hypersensitivity to occupational allergens developed in 4.6 and 8.2% of subjects, respectively. The incidence of occupational allergic rhinitis was 8.4% after 1 year and 12.5% after 2 years, and that of occupational asthma/cough-variant asthma 6.1 and 8.7%, respectively. The latency period of work-related rhinitis symptoms was 11.6 ± 7.1 months and chest symptoms 12.9 ± 5.5 months. Only in 20% of occupational asthmatics could allergic rhinitis be diagnosed a stage earlier. In 21 out of 25 subjects with occupational asthma, chronic cough was the sole clinical manifestation of the disease. Stepwise logistic regression analysis revealed that positive SPT to common allergens was a significant risk factor of hypersensitivity to occupational allergens (OR = 10.6, 95% CI 5.27; 21.45), occupational rhinitis (OR = 3.9, 95% CI 1.71; 9.14) and occupational asthma (OR = 7.4, 95% CI 3.01; 18.04). Moreover, positive SPT to occupational allergens on entry to the training was a significant risk factor of asthma (OR = 6.9, 95% CI 0.93; 51.38).
Conclusions: The incidence of occupational asthma and rhinitis in apprentice bakers is high and increases z with the duration of exposure. Skin reactivity to common and occupational allergens is the main risk factor of bakers’ asthma. Most cases of work-related respiratory symptoms among apprentice bakers are related to a specific sensitization. In most subjects who developed occupational asthma, rhinitis occurred at the same time as the chest symptoms did.