Background: There is a disproportionately high number of cases of work-related asthma occurring in health care occupations due to agents such as glutaraldehyde, latex and cleaning products.
Aims: To understand the causes and measure trends over time of occupational asthma (OA) in health care workers (HCWs).
Methods: We reviewed OA notifications from the Midland Thoracic Society's Surveillance Scheme of Occupational Asthma (SHIELD) database in the West Midlands, UK, from 1991 to 2011 and gathered data on occupation, causative agent and annual number of notifications.
Results: There were 182 cases of OA in HCWs (median annual notifications = 7; interquartile range [IQR] = 5-11), representing 5-19% of annual SHIELD notifications. The modal annual notification was 20 (in 1996); notifications have declined since then, in line with total SHIELD notifications. The majority of cases (136; 75%) occurred in nursing, operating theatre, endoscopy and radiology staff. The most frequently implicated agents were glutaraldehyde (n = 69), latex (n = 47) and cleaning products (n = 27), accounting for 79% of the 182 cases. Cleaning product-related OA was an emerging cause with 22 cases after 2001 and only 5 cases between 1991 and 2000.
Conclusions: Control measures within the UK National Health Service have seen a decline in OA in HCWs due to latex and glutaraldehyde, though OA remains a problem amongst HCWs exposed to cleaning products. Continuing efforts are required to limit the number of cases in this employment sector.
Keywords: Cleaning agent; glutaraldehyde; health care; latex; occupational asthma.