Rationale: Asthma is often work-related and can be classified as atopic or nonatopic on the basis of its pathogenesis. Few studies have reported an association between exposure to occupational asthmogens and asthma with and without atopy.
Objectives: We investigated, in adults with asthma, whether occupational exposure to asthmogens influenced the risk of having atopic or nonatopic asthma, and their level of lung function.
Methods: We recruited 504 hospital-based adults with current asthma, 504 community-based control subjects, and 504 hospital-based control subjects in southern Taiwan. Asthma with atopy was defined as having asthma in combination with an increase in total IgE (≥100 U/ml) or a positive Phadiatop test (≥0.35 Pharmacia arbitrary unit/L) (Pharmacia ImmunoCAP; Pharmacia, Uppsala, Sweden). Occupational exposure to asthmogens was assessed with an asthma-specific job exposure matrix.
Measurements and main results: We found a significant association between atopic asthma and exposure to high molecular weight asthmogens (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 4.0; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.8-8.9). Nonatopic asthma was significantly associated with exposure to low molecular weight asthmogens (AOR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.6-4.3), including industrial cleaning agents and metal sensitizers. Agriculture was associated with both atopic and nonatopic asthma (AOR, 7.8; 95% CI, 2.8-21.8; and AOR, 4.1; 95% CI, 1.3-13.0, respectively). The ratio of FEV₁ to FVC in the high-risk group was significantly lower than in the no-risk group (P = 0.026) in currently employed patients with asthma.
Conclusions: In adults with asthma, occupational exposure to high and low molecular weight asthmogens appears to produce differential risks for atopic and nonatopic asthma.