Background: We have previously suggested that cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis (CFA) may be caused by occupational exposures, particularly to metal or wood dust. We have specifically investigated this hypothesis in a case-control study of patients with CFA.
Methods: We obtained lifetime occupational histories by postal questionnaire from 218 patients with CFA and 569 controls matched for age, sex, and community, living in the Trent region of the UK. Information was subsequently verified by telephone interview in 165 cases and 408 controls. Serum IgE, rheumatoid factor, and antinuclear antibodies and skin sensitivity to common allergens were measured in cases and in one matched control for each.
Findings: The relative risk of CFA, after adjustment for smoking, was significantly increased in relation to questionnaire-reported exposure to metal dust (odds ratio 1.68 [95% CI 1.07-2.65], p = 0.024) or to wood dust (1.71 [1.01-2.92], p = 0.048). Similar results were obtained with the telephone interview data. Significant exposure-response effects were found for both metal-dust and wood-dust exposure. CFA was also associated with the presence of rheumatoid factor or antinuclear antibodies, but not with positive allergen skin tests or raised IgE concentrations. There was no evidence of interaction between the effects of rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibodies, positive skin allergen tests, or IgE concentrations and exposure to metal or wood dust. The combined aetiological fraction attributable to exposure to metal or wood dust was of the order of 20%.
Interpretation: Occupational exposures to metal or wood dust are independent risk factors for CFA. Avoidance or limitation of these exposures may provide an opportunity to prevent the disease.