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Early signs of lung disease linked to workplace exposure

A recent study conducted by the Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Program at Columbia University Medical Center revealed a link between early signs of lung disease and workplace exposures to vapors, gas, dust and fumes. Interstitial lung disease is a medical term used to describe over 100 types of diseases, characterized by fibrosis in the alveoli of the lungs. ILDs include black lung -- caused by the inhalation of coal mine dust, asbestosis -- an often-fatal asbestos disease affecting the lungs and pulmonary sarcoidosis -- an inflammatory disease often attributed to toxic exposure.

Approximately 40,000 Americans, including North Carolinians, die from ILD each year, according to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. The causes of many ILDs are unknown. Therefore, the study's research group sought to identify the causes of early changes in the lungs, preceding the development of ILDs. The research group's goal was to identify the role of one possible cause of ILDs -- workplace exposure -- in changes visible on lung scans, but not producing symptoms.

Five thousand, seven hundred and two participants with cardiovascular disease underwent chest CT scans in the beginning of the study and six years later. These participants reported their exposure to harmful substances, and the researchers also referred to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) exposure estimates data.

Those who had higher exposure scores, according to NIOSH, had higher attenuation areas (characteristic of ILD), with attenuation areas at the highest for those who experienced dust or gas exposure. Breathing in these harmful substances can lead to particularly serious diseases, such asbestos-related cancer, lung cancer or fatal mesothelioma.

According to the study's authors, those who reported exposure to vapor or gases had almost double the risk of interstitial abnormalities. One of the study's authors recommends that workers obtain the generic names of any potentially harmful substances in the workplace, and then review the Material Safety Data Sheet -- which can be provided by employers -- for each one to find out whether any of them are linked to lung disease. To decrease instances of occupational illness or work-related death, workers should also follow employer's instructions regarding the use of protective and safety equipment.

Source: Gulf Times, "Workplace fumes linked to signs of lung disease," Shereen Lehman, Aug. 13, 2017

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