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Industrial bronchitis

Definition

Industrial bronchitis is swelling (inflammation) of the large airways of the lungs that occurs in some people who work around certain dusts, fumes, smoke, or other substances.

Alternative Names

Occupational bronchitis

Causes

Exposure to dusts, fumes, strong acids, and other chemicals in the air causes this type of bronchitis. Smoking may also contribute.

You may be at risk if you are exposed to dusts that contain:

  • Asbestos
  • Coal
  • Cotton
  • Flax
  • Latex
  • Metals
  • Silica
  • Talc
  • Toluene diisocyanate
  • Western red cedar

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will listen to your lungs using a stethoscope. Wheezing sounds or crackles may be heard.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce the irritation.

Getting more air into the workplace or wearing masks to filter out the offending dust particles may help. Some people may need to be taken out of the workplace.

Some cases of industrial bronchitis go away without treatment. Other times, a person may need inhaled anti-inflammatory medicines. If you are at risk or have experienced this problem and you smoke, stop smoking.

Helpful measures include:

  • Breathing humidified air
  • Increasing fluid intake
  • Resting

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome may be good as long as you can stop being exposed to the irritant. Chronic disability from industrial bronchitis is rare.

Possible Complications

Continued exposure to irritating gases, fumes, or other substances can lead to permanent lung damage.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you are regularly exposed to dusts, fumes, strong acids, or other chemicals that can affect the lungs and you develop symptoms of bronchitis.

Prevention

Control dust in industrial settings by wearing face masks and protective clothing, and by treating textiles. Stop smoking if you are at risk.

Get early screening by a doctor if you are exposed to chemicals that can cause this condition.

If you think a chemical you work with is affecting your breathing, ask your employer for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet. Bring it with you to your provider.

References

Lemière C, Vandenplas O. Asthma in the workplace. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 72.

Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 93.

Review Date:11/14/2016
Reviewed By:Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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