Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1984;10(6):481-485    pdf


Atopy and work.

by Nordman H

Atopy denotes the exceptional capacity to produce immunoglobulin (Ig)E antibody when exposed to common environmental allergens. The characteristic is frequently used for preemployment screening purposes. Too little attention has, however, been paid to the rationale and the consequences of this practice. Atopy is very common, and so decisions made because of atopy probably affect about a third of the working population. Work-related hypersensitivity symptoms cannot be eradicated by the weeding out of atopics. The intensity of exposure and/or the sensitizing properties of causative agents are often extremely strong in occupational settings and trigger the production of specific IgE antibodies even in nonatopics. Atopy is probably not sufficiently discriminative for screening purposes even in environments where atopics are known to have a greater risk of developing asthma (eg, laboratories with animals). Moreover, weeding out atopics may be used instead of hygienic and technical measures to reduce exposure levels. Separate decisions on medical, as well as legal, grounds may be warranted when a person with atopic symptoms, ie, rhinitis, asthma, or dermatitis, enters a new occupational environment. There is an urgent need for prospective studies in various occupational environments.