Two invidividuals developed an asthma-like illness after a single exposure to high levels of an irritating aerosol, vapor, fume, or smoke. Symptoms developed within a few hours. A consistent physiologic accompaniment was airways hyperreactivity, with the two subjects showing positive methacholine challenge tests. No documented preexisting respiratory illness was identified, nor did subjects relate past respiratory complaints. Respiratory symptoms and airways hyperreactivity persisted for at least four years after the incident. The incriminated etiologic agents all shared a common characteristic of being irritant in nature. Bronchial biopsy specimens showed an airways inflammatory response. This report suggests that acute high-level irritant exposures may produce an asthma-like syndrome in some individuals, with long-term sequelae and chronic airways disease. Nonimmunologic mechanisms seem to be operative in the pathogenesis of this syndrome.
©1985 The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine