The most common types of damage caused by chemicals in workers is probably to the lungs and to the skin. These are the main sites of the body that are exposed to chemicals. The most common industrial disease is dermatitis, which accounts for more working days lost than all the other industrial diseases together. If solvents or chemicals that workers handle come into contact with their hands, this can lead to irritation. More serious is contact dermatitis which results from repeated exposure over time. Sometimes serious allergic dermatitis occurs, where the chemical acts to sensitize the skin. Workers in the paper and printing industry are prone to skin diseases, and photographic chemicals, metals, resins, and coal tar derivatives can all sensitize the skin. As we have seen, certain chemicals, such as dioxins, can cause a particularly severe form of acne, chloracne.
These effects can be avoided by the use of containment, protective clothing, and barrier creams. Simply handling a metal like nickel can cause dermatitis (nickel-itch). This can also result from wearing jewellery made from nickel. Lung damage due to chemicals results from inhalation of dusts, vapours, or gases. These may primarily affect the lungs themselves, especially if they are irritant, but can also lead to absorption of the chemical into the blood and damage to other organs. As with the skin, the repeated inhalation of certain chemicals can lead to sensitization which causes occupational asthma. Other breathing disorders, such as emphysema, can result from inhaling irritant or damaging chemicals, for example cadmium fumes or asbestos. Again this can be avoided by con tainment of the chemical, filtration of air, and the use of protective clothing. Inhalation of cadmium fumes can also damage other organs, like the kidney.
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If you suffer with asthma, you will no doubt be familiar with the uncomfortable sensations as your bronchial tubes begin to narrow and your muscles around them start to tighten. A sticky mucus known as phlegm begins to produce and increase within your bronchial tubes and you begin to wheeze, cough and struggle to breathe.