Working With Soy May Cause Occupational Asthma

Could your job be making you sick? If you work in a soy processing plant and suffer from asthma, the answer could certainly be yes. This finding comes from researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who looked at the relationship between workers in a soy processing plant and their allergy and asthma symptoms and found some interesting connections.

Soy Allergy

It's long been recognized that consuming soy-based foods and drinks is a common trigger for food allergies, but this is the first time scientists have explored the connection between working with soy-products and experiencing an allergic response that can be associated with a host of respiratory symptoms.

Study Details

The researchers looked at 281 workers and found that this group had a higher prevalence of asthma diagnoses than the general population. The workers also had higher rates of experiencing wheezing. In addition, the participants' blood tests indicated an increased risk of antibodies against soy. Those that had such antibodies were much more likely to have asthma symptoms.

The Link between Soy Allergy and Occupational Asthma

The CDC researchers speculate that the reason workers may experience soy allergy and asthma symptoms may be traced to breathing in soy dust on the job. In fact, the factory being looked at for this study processes soy by breaking it down into miniscule flakes, which can cause soy powder to be released into the air and is easily inhaled by workers. This is the first time the medical community has been able to make such a strong link between a soy allergy and occupational asthma. The results of this study were included in the European Respiratory Journal in the spring of 2010.

What You Should Know

If you work in an environment where you have exposure to soy, you may wonder what this information means to you and what you can do about it. First, it's important to pay attention to your respiratory symptoms and try to narrow in on the possible triggers. While a soy allergy could certainly be the cause, you may need to consider other possibilities as well, including allergens such as mold, dust mites, and chemicals.

If it does look like soy is to blame, you may want  to take some essential steps to help minimize your reaction. For instance, you can talk to your human resources representative about this problem, and ask your employer to take some simple steps like improving ventilation and making other changes in the plant to reduce exposure for you and your co-workers. You may also want to wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth so you don't breathe in the soy dust.

Manage Occupational Asthma

Of course, even if you don't work in a soy processing plant, you may still suffer from occupational asthma symptoms. This common problem can be linked to a variety of workplace triggers. Therefore, regardless of where you work, if you're experiencing allergy and asthma symptoms and believe they stem from something on the job, talk to your doctor. The good news is that by avoiding your triggers, occupational asthma can be prevented or at least well managed. He can also help you create an asthma action plan to help you control your symptoms and tell you exactly how to respond if they get out of hand.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

European Respiratory Journal, online April 22, 2010. (subscription required)

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