Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: how to protect oneself

The work environment is often the precursor of occupational diseases which can be avoided, in most case, through the use of personal protective equipment. The organs which are usually affected are the bronchial tubes and the lungs that can be damaged through the inhalation of micro-particles which cause sensitization over time. Among the disorders that may occur are hypersensitivity pneumonitis or occupational extrinsic allergic alveolitis.

Occupational groups at risk of hypersensitivity pneumonitis

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis develops when organic dust of vegetable or animal origin is inhaled. It may also be caused by chemical substances, but only very rarely. It is, therefore, more frequently found among people who farm  land or work with animals, i.e. farmers and breeders are the more exposed categories. An agent responsible for the development of occupational extrinsic allergic alveolitis is thermophilic actinomycete which is found in hay generated dust. The particles of this dust are so fine that they manage to enter the alveoli triggering an inflammatory reaction, and, in the case of continuous heavy exposure to this dust, may lead to fibrosis and to diseases such as bronchiolar obliteration.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis can appear in an acute form as soon as a few hours from exposure to the provoking agent. The symptoms are::

  • fever
  • chills
  • chest tightness
  • cough
  • malaise.

These symptoms may disappear on their own if there is no exposure to the agent for at least a week. The subacute form of the disease is similar to the acute form and develops after a prolonged period of exposure. The chronic form is much more dangerous as it affects workers who are exposed to the pathogen on a daily basis without using appropriate preventive measures. In fact, chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis evolves into irreversible pulmonary fibrosis which is characterized by severe respiratory failure, weight loss and general malaise.

How to protect oneself against hypersensitivity pneumonitis thanks to respiratory protective devices

Workers who are continuously exposed to pathogens which cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis need to take precautions in order to avoid inhaling thermophilic actinomycetes. These workers need to wear respiratory protective devices to prevent the inhalation of harmful micro-particles. Among the various respiratory protective devices available it is advisable to use powered air purifying respirators which are equipped with filters to remove the fine dust that causes sensitization.

Powered air purifying respirators  are run by rechargeable batteries which are usually worn on a belt at the waist, built into a helmet, or fitted to a neck support at the back of the head. The latter type is very compact and comfortable. Battery running time is over 8 hours thus covering an entire work shift. Powered respiratory protective devices generate a continuous flow of filtered air inside the facepiece. The system is equipped with exhalation valves to expel excess and exhaled air and the wearer breathes more comfortably even under strain. The respirators are compact and easy to don and doff.