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Prevalence of respiratory symptoms among female flight attendants and teachers.

Whelan EA; Lawson CC; Grajewski B; Petersen MR; Pinkerton LE; Ward EM; Schnorr TM
Med Lav 2002 Sep; 93(5):396-397
Background: Indoor air quality has generated considerable concern and controversy over the past decade. Two occupational groups that have been a focus of recent interest are flight attendants and school teachers. Indoor air quality problems in aircraft cabins and in schools may be very different from those observed in commercial office buildings primarily because occupancy in both settings is generally more dense, and ventilation rates per occupant are lower. We analyzed the self-reported prevalence of respiratory symptoms in these two groups, using data from national surveys for comparison. Methods: Data for this analysis were collected as part of a larger study of reproductive health among female flight attendants. Respiratory symptom questions were based on those used in national surveys and included: itchy/irritated/watery eyes, stuffed/blocked/itchy/runny nose, sore/dry throat, wheezing/whistling in chest, cold/flu, chest illness, and physician-diagnosed asthma. For eye, nose, and throat symptoms, respondents were asked if the symptoms improved on non-work days. Prevalence rates for each of the symptoms were calculated, stratified by smoking status. Results: A total of 1,285 flight attendants (FAs) and 221 teachers, who were never-smokers, provided data for the main analysis of respiratory symptoms. FAs and teachers were significantly more likely to report work-related eye (12.1% and 6.7 %, respectively), nose (14.5% and 7.9%), and throat symptoms (7.1% and 4.9%) than were other working women (2.7% eye, 2.7% nose, and 1.5% throat symptoms). FAs and teachers were twice as likely to report wheezing/whistling in the chest in the past year (20.6% and 24.9%, respectively) than other working women (10.6%). FAs were significantly more likely than teachers and referent working women to report chest illness during the prior three years (30.7%, 19.0%,8.1%, respectively). Both groups were more likely to report five or more episodes of cold or flu in the past year than were other working women (10.4% of FAs, 9.0% of teachers, 2.7% of referents). FAs were significantly less likely than teachers and other working women to report ever having been diagnosed with asthma (8.3%,12.7%, 10.9%, respectively). Conclusions: Overall, flight attendants and school teachers report a higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms compared to the general working population. Study limitations include the self-reported nature of the data and the lack of comparability in time periods among study data and referent data. The findings should be confirmed and potential causes of the apparently high prevalence of symptoms in these occupational groups should be the subject of further study.
Aircrews; Teaching; Women; Respiratory-system-disorders; Respiratory-infections; Respiratory-irritants; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Pulmonary-disorders; Indoor-air-pollution; Bronchial-asthma; Infectious-diseases; Air-contamination; Indoor-environmental-quality
Publication Date
Document Type
Conference/Symposia Proceedings; Abstract
Fiscal Year
Issue of Publication
NIOSH Division
Source Name
La Medicina del Lavoro
Page last reviewed: May 5, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division