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Occupational Rhinitis (OR)

What Does Occupational Rhinitis (OR) Mean?

Occupational rhinitis (OR) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the upper respiratory tract. It is characterized by intermittent or persistent symptoms such as sneezing and nasal congestion, variable nasal airflow limitation, and hypersecretion.

Respiratory disorders that manifest as rhinitis may later progress into asthma with continued exposure. In addition to discomfort, occupational rhinitis can impact productivity and contribute to psychosocial problems.

Safeopedia Explains Occupational Rhinitis (OR)

Occupational allergic diseases have an estimated worldwide prevalence of 5 to 15%. The prevalence of occupational rhinitis, while not precisely known, is thought to be at least two to three times greater than occupational asthma.

Although rhinitis is a prevalent occupational disease, it is often treated as a nuisance since its symptoms can appear similar to those of a minor allergy. Occupational rhinitis, however, is often a precursor to occupational asthma. Moreover, it is associated with a number of comorbodities, including:

  • Recurrent rhinitis
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Headaches
  • Disordered sleep

Exposure to Occupational Allergens

Occupational rhinitis is classified into allergic or non-allergic, depending on the causative agents and pathogenesis.

Veterinarians, farmers, and agricultural workers are at risk of developing the condition due to their frequent and prolonged exposure to animals, pollens, spores, and grains.

Workers who are regularly exposed to wood dust, latex glove powder, acid anhydrates, glues, and psyllium are also at higher risk of developing rhinitis.

This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Various chemical and biological agents can contribute to the condition. This leaves workers in various industries from textiles and printing to sanitation and food production vulnerable to developing work-related rhinitis.

How Occupational Rhinitis Is Related to Occupational Asthma

Research shows that most patients suffering from occupational asthma also suffer from occupational rhinitis, and that rhinitis precedes the development of asthma.This is especially true when high molecular weight proteins are involved. The level of exposure to allergens at the workplace determines the development of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated sensitization and rhinitis.

Atopy (an immune system condition that makes the development of allergies more likely) is a risk factor for the development of IgE-mediated sensitization only to high molecular weight agents. Skin prick testing or serum-specific IgE can be used to confirm a diagnosis of probable OR in workers with WRR symptoms. Specific nasal provocation testing in the laboratory remains the reference method to establish a definite diagnosis of OR.
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