Objective: To determine the agents causing asthmatic reactions during specific inhalation challenges (SICs) in workers with cleaning-related asthma symptoms and to assess the pattern of bronchial responses in order to identify the mechanisms involved in cleaning-related asthma.
Design: A retrospective case series analysis.
Setting: The study included all participants who completed an SIC procedure with the cleaning/disinfection products suspected of causing work-related asthma over the period 1992-2011 in a tertiary centre, which is the single specialised centre of the French-speaking part of Belgium where all participants with work-related asthma are referred to for SIC.
Results: The review identified 44 participants who completed an SIC with cleaning/disinfection agents. Challenge exposure to the suspected cleaning agents elicited a ≥20% fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) in 17 (39%) participants. The cleaning products that induced a positive SIC contained quaternary ammonium compounds (n=10), glutaraldehyde (n=3), both of these agents (n=1) and ethanolamines (n=2). Positive SICs were associated with a significant decrease in the median (IQR) value of the provocative concentration of histamine causing a 20% fall in FEV1 (PC20) from 1.4 (0.2-4.2) mg/mL at baseline to 0.5 (0.4-3.0) mg/mL after the challenge and a significant increase in sputum eosinophils from 1.8 (0.8-7.2)% at baseline to 10.0 (4.1-15.9)% 7 h after the challenge exposure while these parameters did not significantly change in participants with a negative SIC. Overall, 11 of 17 participants with positive SICs showed greater than threefold decrease in postchallenge histamine PC20 value, a >2% increase in sputum eosinophils, or both of these outcomes.
Conclusions: These data indicate that a substantial proportion of workers who experience asthma symptoms related to cleaning materials show a pattern of bronchial reaction consistent with sensitiser-induced occupational asthma. The results also suggest that quaternary ammonium compounds are the principal cause of sensitiser-induced occupational asthma among cleaners.
Keywords: Bronchoprovocation tests; Cleaning; Occupational disease.