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World Allergy Week is an annual initiative of the World Allergy Organisation, aimed at raising awareness of allergic diseases and related disorders. This year World Allergy Week took place on 5-11 June 2022, with a focus on allergic respiratory diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and asthma.

Some of our clients have been diagnosed with hypertensivity pneumonitis, so we wanted to share some information about this condition, and how the environment you work in can be a contributing factor.  

What is hypertensivity pneumonitis?

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (also known as Extrinsic Allergic Alveolitis) is an allergic response to an environmental irritant, or allergen. This allergic reaction causes the lungs to become inflamed.

This inflammation makes it difficult to breathe and can lead to irreversible lung damage. The severity of the disease can vary, depending on the inhaled allergens and quantity.

Many cases of hypersensitivity pneumonitis occur suddenly and for a short time, and these cases are usually successfully treated. However, those with an exposure to low levels of allergens over an extended period of time may develop chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis, meaning it can come on slowly and worsen over time.

A farmer; hypersensitive Pneumonitis can develop in workplace settings such as farms

What are the symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis?

Symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis depend on whether it is acute (shorter and severe) or chronic (over a longer period and worsening) in nature.

Symptoms of acute Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis usually last between a few hours and days and may include:

  • dry cough;
  • chill;
  • fever;
  • fatigue; and
  • shortness of breath.

The symptoms of chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis can be long term and may include:

  • coughing spasms;
  • finger and toe clubbing;
  • fatigue;
  • weight loss; and
  • irreversible permanent scarring of the lung tissue resulting from too little oxygen.
     

What causes hypersensitivity pneumonitis?

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is caused by breathing in specific environmental allergens. This causes an immune response of the lungs in response to repeated inhalation of a sensitized allergen. 

Various medical studies have revealed that Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis can develop in workplace settings where workers are exposed to allergens such as:

  • mould
  • bacteria
  • bird droppings
  • bird feathers
  • chemicals from paints or plastics
  • grain dust, malt dust and wheat
  • enzyme detergent
  • epoxy resin

Because of this, some of the most high-risk industries are cheese manufacturers, laboratory workers, sugar manufacturers, farmers, malt and beer brewery workers and cattle workers.

What should you do if you have been exposed at work?

If you have worked somewhere with exposure to allergens such as mould, bacteria, bird droppings, bird feathers, chemicals from paints or plastics, grain dust, malt dust, enzyme detergent, epoxy resin and wheat and you are concerned you might be at risk, see your GP.

It’s important you also inform them of your occupation, and exposure levels so they have all of the information.

Your GP can guide you as to the need for any ongoing monitoring depending on your specific circumstances.

Related: Three things to ask your GP if you’ve been exposed to toxins at work

Why you might need legal advice

If you have been diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis and have a history of occupational exposure to mould, bacteria, bird droppings, bird feathers, chemicals from paints or plastics, grain dust, malt dust, enzyme detergent, epoxy resin and wheat, and/or work in a high-risk industry, it is important to get legal advice to help you understand your rights and options.

Learn more about workplace diseases

Our specialist workplace disease lawyers have experience managing claims across Australia including diseases caused by asbestos, silica and dust exposure. Contact us today and find out how we can help.

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