Purpose: To examine the long-term effects on work ability among patients previously diagnosed with occupational asthma (OA) or work-exacerbated asthma (WEA) or symptoms in relation to workplace dampness.
Methods: A questionnaire follow-up was used to study 1,098 patients (of whom 87 % were female) examined because of a suspected occupational respiratory disease caused by building dampness and mold. Self-rated work ability and early withdrawal from work were the two outcomes of the study. As determinants, we investigated the influence of the asthma diagnosis given in the initial examinations (OA or WEA), the number of persistent indoor air symptoms, and the psychosocial factors at work.
Results: With a mean follow-up of 7.8 years, 40 % of the OA patients, under 65 years of age, were outside worklife versus 23 % of the WEA patients and 15 % of the patients with only upper respiratory symptoms at baseline. The diagnosis of OA was associated with a nearly sixfold risk for early withdrawal from work in a comparison with a reference group with upper respiratory symptoms. A perceived poor social climate at work and poor experiences with supervisory co-operation were associated with impaired work ability outcomes. Those with multiple, long-term indoor air symptoms considerably more often perceived their work ability to be poor when compared with those with less significant symptoms.
Conclusions: Adverse work ability outcomes are associated with asthma in relation to workplace dampness. The study raises the need for effective preventive measures in order to help workers with indoor air symptoms sustain their work ability.