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Wheat allergen exposure and the prevalence of work-related sensitization and allergy in bakery workers

Authors

  • J. H. Jacobs,

    1. Division of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
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  • T. Meijster,

    1. Division of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
    2. Department of Food and Chemical Risk Analysis, TNO Quality of Life, Zeist, the Netherlands
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  • E. Meijer,

    1. Division of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
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  • E. Suarthana,

    1. Division of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
    2. Community Medicine Department, Faculty of Medicine, University of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia
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  • D. Heederik

    1. Division of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
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J. Jacobs
Division of Environmental Epidemiology
Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences
Utrecht University
PO Box 80178
3508 TD Utrecht
the Netherlands

Abstract

Background:  Occupational airway diseases are common among bakers. The present study describes the association between exposure to wheat allergen levels and sensitization to wheat allergens, work-related upper and lower respiratory symptoms and asthma in bakery workers.

Methods:  As part of a Health Surveillance System for early detection of (allergic) occupational airway diseases a so-called ‘validation study’ was performed among Dutch bakers for validation of a diagnostic model that predict the likelihood of sensitization to specific workplace allergens. The present study used serology and questionnaire results of a subgroup of 860 bakers participating in the validation study. An earlier developed job-exposure matrix was used to predict average and cumulative personal exposure to wheat allergens.

Results:  The prevalence of wheat sensitization, work-related respiratory symptoms and asthma increased till average wheat exposure levels of approximately 25–30 μg/m3, leveled off and decreased at higher exposure concentrations. Exposure–response curves showed a stronger pronounced bell-shape with cumulative exposure. Associations were strongest for asthma and work-related lower respiratory symptoms (PR∼2 and PR∼3.5–4.5 for average and cumulative exposure, respectively). Associations were only found in atopics. Wheat sensitization was an important factor in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms.

Conclusion:  In accordance with earlier studies, the present study showed a bell-shaped exposure–response relationship especially for cumulative wheat allergen exposure with sensitization, allergic respiratory symptoms and asthma. The healthy worker effect may be the possible explanation for the bell-shaped relationship.

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