Clinical Research Office. A partnership between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield

Occupational Lung Disease

A range of respiratory diseases can be caused by exposures in the workplace. The main categories of these diseases are as follows:

Occupational asthma: this can be defined as adult onset asthma that is specifically caused by agents that are present in the workplace, however, a wider definition of work-related asthma includes all cases where there is an association between symptoms and work, including cases that are exacerbated by work

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a serious long-term lung disease in which the flow of air into the lungs is gradually reduced by inflammation of the air passages and damage to the lung tissue. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common types of COPD. A wide range of vapours, dusts, gases and fumes potentially contribute to causing the disease or making it worse.

Pneumoconiosis is a long-term and irreversible disease characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. The main types of pneumoconiosis are defined in terms of their causative agents: coal worker’s pneumoconiosis due to coal dust exposure, asbestosis due to exposure to asbestos fibres, and silicosis due to silica dust exposure.

Diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques: non-malignant diseases of the lung lining caused by exposure asbestos.

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP) is a type of inflammation of the air sacs within the lungs due to an allergic reaction to organic material.

Byssinosis is an asthma-like disease in which the air passages become constricted in reaction to exposure cotton dust.

Respiratory cancers include lung cancer, which may be caused by a range of exposures – such as asbestos, silica, diesel engine exhaust emissions, and mineral oils – and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs which is caused by asbestos.

Disease latency

Most of the above diseases – with the main exception of occupational asthma and other allergic respiratory disease – are so called long latency diseases, meaning that symptoms usually start to become apparent many years after the time of first exposure to the agents that caused them. Latency periods for occupational asthma and other allergic respiratory disease may vary.