Objective: To investigate respiratory symptoms and respiratory-related absence from work among Swedish health care workers (HCWs).
Methods: From a postal questionnaire study among a general Swedish working population (n = 12,186), we identified 2156 HCW (555 assistant nurses, 377 nurses, 109 physicians, and 1115 others), including 429 with mainly cleaning tasks (HCW-cleaning). The remaining respondents were classified as non-HCW. Multiple logistic regressions with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were used to compare respiratory symptoms and respiratory-related absence from work between HCW and non-HCW, adjusting for potential confounders.
Results: The prevalence of adult onset asthma was 4.3% in HCW and 3.0% in non-HCW (p = .003). Asthmatic symptoms during the past year were reported mainly by HCW-cleaning, 14.7%, in comparison to 8.3% among non-HCW (p < .0001). HCW had an increased odds ratio (OR) for asthmatic symptoms during the past year (OR 1.3, 95% CI (1.1-1.5)) and more prominent among assistant nurses (OR 1.5, 95% CI (1.1-2.0)) and HCW-cleaning (OR 1.9, 95% CI (1.4-2.5)). Respiratory-related absence from work in the past year was reported by 1.4% of non-HCW, 3.0% of HCW-cleaning, 2.9% of nurses, and 1.6% of assistant nurses. Taking smoking and age into account, there was still significantly increased respiratory-related absence from work in nurses (OR 2.0, 95% CI (1.1-3.8)) and in HCW-cleaning (OR 2.1, 95% CI (1.2-3.7)).
Conclusions: HCW in Sweden, especially those with cleaning tasks, reported more respiratory symptoms and respiratory-related absence from work than the general working population. There is a need for longitudinal studies with detailed information on both occupational exposures and socioeconomic factors to explore what influences respiratory-related absence from work among HCW.