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BACKGROUND: Despite having a work related deterioration in peak expiratory flow (PEF), many workers with occupational asthma show a low degree of within day diurnal variability atypical of non-occupational asthma. It was hypothesised that these workers would have a neutrophilic rather than an eosinophilic airway inflammatory response. METHODS: Thirty eight consecutive workers with occupational asthma induced by low molecular weight agents underwent sputum induction and assessment of airway physiology while still exposed at work. RESULTS: Only 14 (36.8%) of the 38 workers had sputum eosinophilia (>2.2%). Both eosinophilic and non-eosinophilic groups had sputum neutrophilia (mean (SD) 59.5 (19.6)% and 55.1 (18.8)%, respectively). The diurnal variation and magnitude of fall in PEF during work periods was not significantly different between workers with and without sputum eosinophilia. Those with eosinophilia had a lower forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1; 61.4% v 83% predicted, mean difference 21.6, 95% confidence interval (CI) 9.2 to 34.1, p=0.001) and greater methacholine reactivity (geometric mean PD20 253 microg v 1401 microg, p=0.007). They also had greater bronchodilator reversibility (397 ml v 161 ml, mean difference 236, 95% CI of difference 84 to 389, p=0.003) which was unrelated to differences in baseline FEV(1). The presence of sputum eosinophilia did not relate to the causative agent, duration of exposure, atopy, or lack of treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Asthma caused by low molecular weight agents can be separated into eosinophilic and non-eosinophilic pathophysiological variants with the latter predominating. Both groups had evidence of sputum neutrophilia. Sputum eosinophilia was associated with more severe disease and greater bronchodilator reversibility but no difference in PEF response to work exposure.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Thorax

Publication Date

03/2002

Volume

57

Pages

231 - 236

Keywords

Asthma, Eosinophilia, Eosinophils, Forced Expiratory Volume, Humans, Middle Aged, Molecular Weight, Occupational Diseases, Occupational Exposure, Peak Expiratory Flow Rate, Sputum, Vital Capacity