A British study has found that industrial workers have a higher than expected rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The findings have been published in the European Respiratory Journal.

The researchers surveyed more than 7,500 randomly selected people from north-east England aged 45 to 69. Over half the respondents suffered from some form of chronic respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheeze, or shortness of breath, which can all be signs of COPD.

Of the 845 people who responded to the survey and underwent simple breathing tests, 11% were found to be suffering from COPD. Those with a history of occupational exposures were approximately 50% more likely to report respiratory symptoms compared to those who had not been exposed. People working in industrial fields suffered about one-fifth more COPD.

The number of sufferers is likely to be far higher than is currently recognized, according to the researchers. Coal miners are known to have developed COPD as a result of their exposure to coal dust, but much less is known about the effects of other occupational exposures. This study looked specifically at factory workers; ship building; coal miners; and those who have been exposed to asbestos, paint, or other dust and fumes.

The researchers point out that while smoking was a factor, it did not explain the full extent of the problem they uncovered. “Our figures show a link between working in an industrial setting and developing COPD,” said Alice Melville, MD, study author from Newcastle University.

Source: Newcastle University