Purpose: Many occupational factors can cause asthma or reactivate preexisting disease. We carried out a critical review and synthesis of the available literature to estimate the proportion of adult asthma that is attributable to workplace factors.
Methods: We reviewed published citations from 1966 through May 1999 as well as recent abstracts of studies providing risk estimates for asthma among various occupations. We extracted published attributable risk estimates, derived others from published data, and extrapolated estimates from the incidence rates of occupational asthma. We used a semiquantitative score to rank studies based on their characteristics.
Results: We obtained 43 attributable risk estimates from 19 different countries: 23 were published estimates, 8 were derived from published data, and 12 were extrapolated from incidence data. The median value for the attributable risk of occupationally associated asthma was 9%(25th to 75th interquartile range: 5% to 19%). The derived estimates (median attributable risk = 25%) were significantly greater than published values (median = 9%, P = 0.002), whereas the extrapolated estimates were significantly lower (median = 5%, P = 0.04). The 12 highest scored studies based on their characteristics yielded a median risk estimate of 15%.
Conclusion: Occupational factors are associated with about 1 in 10 cases of adult asthma, including new onset disease and reactivation of preexisting asthma.