Diagnostic approach in cases with suspected work-related asthma
by Tor B. Aasen, P. Sherwood Burge, Paul K Henneberger, Vivi Schlünssen and Xaver Baur[on behalf of the ERS Task Force on the Management of Work-related Asthma* ] and EOMSociety
Background: Work-related asthma (WRA) is a major cause of respiratory disease in modern societies. The diagnosis and consequently an opportunity for prevention are often missed in practice.
Methods: Based on recent studies and systematic reviews of the literature methods for detection of WRA and identification of specific causes of allergic WRA are discussed.
Results and Conclusions: All workers should be asked whether symptoms improve on days away from work or on holidays. Positive answers should lead to further investigation. Spirometry and non-specific bronchial responsiveness should be measured, but carefully performed and validly analysed serial peak expiratory flow or forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) measurements are more specific and confirm occupational asthma in about 82% of those still exposed to the causative agent. Skin prick testing or specific immunoglobulin E assays are useful to document allergy to high molecular weight allergens. Specific inhalational challenge tests come closest to a gold standard test, but lack standardisation, availability and sensitivity. Supervised workplace challenges can be used when specific challenges are unavailable or the results non-diagnostic, but methodology lacks standardisation. Finally, if the diagnosis remains unclear a follow-up with serial measurements of FEV1 and non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness should detect those likely to develop permanent impairment from their occupational exposures.