Exposure to allergens or chemicals while “on the job” can cause occupational allergies such as asthma, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, urticaria and contact dermatitis. Some substances like latex may cause both respiratory and skin allergies.
Asthma is characterized by intermittent respiratory symptoms; i.e., chest tightness, wheezing, cough and shortness of breath. 10-25% of cases of adult asthma are attributable to occupational factors. We can estimate that in Europe there are 1/2-1 million workers with occupational asthma. The main occupations at risk of occupational asthma are bakers, laboratory animal and health care workers, spray painters, cleaners, woodworkers, farmers and hairdressers.
Rhinitis is characterized by nasal blockage, sneezing, running and itchy nose. Occupational rhinitis is three times more frequent than occupational asthma and it is often associated with occupational conjunctivitis (itching, tearing, irritation and redness of the eyes). The agents responsible for occupational asthma and rhinitis are the same, and a majority of patients diagnosed with occupational asthma also suffer from occupational rhinitis, which usually precedes the onset of occupational asthma.
Occupational dermatitis is one of the most common causes of occupational disease and accounts for many workdays lost. Symptoms of acute occupational dermatitis are red, swollen and itchy skin. In the chronic stage the skin shows vesiculation, oozing, desquamation and fissures.
Main occupations at risk include builders, florists, nurses, hairdressers and printers.
Natural rubber latex is used to make latex gloves, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, erasers and toys. Latex allergy became frequent in the late 1980’s when health care workers started using powdered latex gloves to prevent infections such as hepatitis and AIDS. In the last 15 years the increased use of non-latex or powder-free gloves determined a decline in latex allergy. Latex allergy may manifest with contact urticaria, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma and contact dermatitis.