The studies reviewed in this article indicate the association of occupational exposure to a variety of organic and inorganic dusts and various gases and fumes with chronic bronchitis and decrements in FEV1. Usually an obstructive pattern was noted, although in some occupations a similar decrement in FVC was noted. The effect of smoking on chronic bronchitis, respiratory symptoms, and FEV1 was usually additive, although workers exposed to cotton dust in one study demonstrated an interaction between exposure and smoking, as did a study of a general population sample. In coal workers, exposure to dust in younger workers resulted in a greater decline in lung function than if the exposure occurred in older workers. Studies in coal miners and grain workers further suggest that occupational standards in effect are not sufficient to protect the working population from adverse effects. The magnitude of the effect of occupation on decrement in FEV1 is usually less than cigarette smoking. Studies in coal miners indicate, however, that a minority of workers could be more severely affected by exposure. When considered together with cigarette smoking, additional decrements in lung function because of occupational exposure could contribute to disability. Additional study is needed for better understanding of exposure-response relationships, host factors, potential interaction with cigarette smoking, and the pathophysiology of the development of occupationally induced airway disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas