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Occupational airborne exposure, specific sensitization and the atopic status: evidence of a complex interrelationship

Xaver Baur12* and Liubov Barbinova3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Occupational Medicine, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Thielallee 69, Berlin D-14195, Germany

2 European Society for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Berlin, Germany

3 Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine, Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany

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Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 2013, 8:2  doi:10.1186/1745-6673-8-2

Published: 13 February 2013



We have investigated the relationship between atopic status and long-term occupational exposure to latex proteins or methyl diethyl diisocyanate (MDI) as high and low molecular weight asthma-inducing agents, respectively.


This study is based on retrospective analyses of two groups of symptomatic outpatients: 184 healthcare workers with latex exposure and 156 workers with isocyanate (MDI) exposure. We analysed atopic and non-atopic subgroups according to exposure duration and the frequencies of specific sensitization.


45% of the healthcare subgroup specifically sensitized to latex were atopic, whereas in the non-sensitized healthcare subgroup only 26% were atopic. On the other hand, subjects specifically sensitized to MDI were rarely atopic (only 15%), whereas in the subgroup non-sensitized to MDI atopy was present in 38%. After prolonged durations of exposure, the proportion of atopics was further elevated in most healthcare subgroups but it decreased in the MDI-exposed subjects.


We hypothesize that latex proteins as sensitizing agents might promote the development of atopy, whereas exposure to the low molecular weight MDI might inhibit the atopic status.

Occupational exposure; Allergic asthma; Latex sensitization; Isocyanate asthma; Environmental sensitization; Atopy status