Background: Gender related differences in respiratory disease have been documented. The aim of this study was to investigate gender related differences in respiratory findings by occupation. We analyzed data from 12 of our previously published studies.
Methods: Three thousand and eleven (3011) workers employed in "organic dust" industries (1379 female and 1632 male) were studied. A control group of 806 workers not exposed to any kind of dust were also investigated (male = 419, female = 387). Acute and chronic respiratory symptoms and lung function were measured. The weighted average method and the Mantel-Haentszel method were used to calculate the odds ratios of symptoms. Hedge's unbiased estimations were used to measure lung function differences between men and women.
Results: There were high prevalences of acute and chronic respiratory symptoms in all the "dusty" studied groups compared to controls. Significantly less chronic cough, chronic phlegm as well as chronic bronchitis were found among women than among men after the adjustments for smoking, age and duration of employment. Upper respiratory tract symptoms by contrast were more frequent in women than in men in these groups. Significant gender related lung function differences occurred in the textile industry but not in the food processing industry or among farmers.
Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that in industries processing organic compounds there are gender differences in respiratory symptoms and lung function in exposed workers. Whether these findings represent true physiologic gender differences, gender specific workplace exposures or other undefined gender variables not defined in this study cannot be determined. These data do not suggest that special limitations for women are warranted for respiratory health reasons in these industries, but the issue of upper respiratory irritation and disease warrants further study.