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Workplace Fumes Linked to Signs of Early Lung Disease

Individuals exposed to vapors, fumes, gas and dust in the workplace are more likely to show early signs of disease located in the lung tissue.

“Interstitial lung disease is a family of over 100 diseases each characterized by inflammation and/or scarring (fibrosis) in the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs,” said study coauthor Dr. David Lederer, who co-directs the Interstitial Lung Disease Program at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

sept2017image008Approximately 40,000 Americans die from interstitial lung disease (ILD) each year. Researchers began studying the causes of ILD by focusing on the earliest changes that occur in the lungs before the disease’s clinically evident development. IDL can occur due to “asbestosis from asbestos exposure and pulmonary sarcoidosis,” as well as “black lung from working in coal mines” and from “exposure to mold in the home or workplace.”

By analyzing chest CT scans of 5,702 adults over a six-year period, researchers were determined to understand the role of workplace exposures and the impacts they can have on the lungs. Participants were tasked with reporting their rates of exposure to fumes, dust, vapors and gas. The researchers then “drew exposure estimates from data created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).”

Individuals who reported higher exposure rates, especially to gas or dust, were more likely to have increased “opaque areas” commonly associated with ILD, also known as high attenuation areas. Researchers also discovered that increased exposure to gas or vapors were associated with nearly double the risk of interstitial lung abnormalities.

The most common symptoms to develop are “breathlessness during exertion and dry cough (meaning a cough without significant production of sputum or phlegm).”

“These symptoms worsen over time and in moderate to severe disease, people living with ILD are prescribed oxygen. Despite the use of oxygen and other treatments, fibrotic forms of ILD eventually become life-threatening,” Lederer added.

To effectively prevent these exposures from occurring, it is critical that individuals first speak with a doctor about their workplace conditions and possible exposures. 

“Workers should obtain the generic names of any chemicals and other agents in the workplace, and either the worker or the patient should obtain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each agent,” Lederer said. “Workers should also follow the instructions given by their employer regarding the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, and respirators.”

A review of these MSDS’s, which should be provided by employers, can help to identify if certain exposures are linked to the occurrence of lung disease.

Click Here to Access the Full Article on Reuters

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