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	figure with microscope of cells, fumes

Immune Diseases

Input: Program Description

Impaired immune function can result in uncontrolled inflammation or increased susceptibility to diseases. Allergic conditions are exaggerated immune responses to substances often found in the workplace. Areas of interest to be explored will include: health risks due to employment in mold-contaminated workplaces; allergic rhinitis and sinusitis from occupational allergen exposures; the impact of occupational exposures to chemicals on normal immune function; and the identification of allergens in the workplace imposing significant health risks to workers in various sectors and industries.

Millions of people suffer from allergies, with allergic rhinitis being one of the most common, affecting up to 30% of the population and resulting in billions of dollars in loss of workplace productivity. Asthma is one of the more serious problems that can be caused by work-related allergy. Work-related asthma comprises 15% to 23% of new onset asthma cases in adults. It can cause recurrent attacks of symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. In severe cases, these symptoms can be disabling. Fortunately, when potential hazards are recognized, work-related allergies and asthma can often be prevented or their effects minimized.

Exposures to chemical substances that may induce immune abnormalities including immune suppression and autoimmunity are important hazards in certain work environments. There is an increasing need for the immunological evaluation of exposure to these chemicals/substances due to the potential risk for the development of clinical disease.

To advance our understanding on the occupational skin diseases and the strategies of exposure control and prevention, NIOSH Immune, Dermal & Infectious Diseases Program supports laboratory and field investigations and the development of scientifically based recommendations to promote safe and healthful working conditions. Significant NIOSH efforts in these areas include:

  • Increased identification of immunological hazards encountered in the workplace. Evaluation of these compounds will allow for better risk assessment which will ultimately establish occupational exposure limits. Expansions of the immunological database for human exposure to chemicals in the workplace and the development and publication of NIOSH guidance documents and materials will help to educate exposed workers and the general public.
  • Increased awareness of occupational exposures to allergens including molds. Immunoassays and standardized approaches will allow for the easy identification of mold in the workplace. Upon identification, actions can be taken to reduce or eliminate mold exposure.
  • Development and publication of new information to characterize occupational chemicals or allergens that cause allergic disease or asthma. Implementation of these data by industry and regulatory agencies will help to accurately identify and implement acceptable exposure levels for these chemicals. Increased knowledge of the mechanisms behind these hazards presents the possibility of disease intervention.