Plants Causing Asthma andor Rhinitis

Often the same identified type of stimuli may cause rhinitis in one person and asthma in another. Pollens and organic dusts including endotoxins, bacteria, glucans, insect parts, grain mites, mold or mycotoxins from fungi, and aerosolized and respirable dust from the plant product or pure plant material are the sources of virtually all plant-borne causes of rhinitis and asthma. Several years ago it was questioned as to whether grain dust asthma really existed, but this was primarily attributed to the fact that the composition of grain dust is so complex that identification of a specific antigen is difficult despite clear positive responses to dust inhalation challenge and skin testing. Grain dust has been found to significantly increase symptoms of cough, sputum, wheezing, and shortness of breath. However, these problems were found to be more severe in smokers (1,2,3).

Various types of pollens are well known to be associated with allergies and asthma. Agricultural practices, particularly harvesting and moving long-term storage grains, increase the dissemination of these various types of particles and pollens and the incidence of these allergic reactions. The pollen of members of the Ambrosia genus of the Compositae family, such as ragweed, are perhaps the best known cause of allergic rhinitis. Several agricultural plant species have crossreactive proteins with group I, IV, and IX allergens, and thus it is highly likely that a worker would be allergic to all of them. The cross reactive crops are barley, corn, rye, triticale, oats, canola, and sunflower pollens. These allergies, along with ragweed, are often given the nonspecific name of "hay fever" (4,5).

Dust exposure in coffee processing facilities has also been linked to rhinitis and asthma-like symptoms. The castor bean is known to be a strongly sensitizing allergen and cross-reactive with coffee beans. Green coffee beans are particularly linked to causing allergic symptoms in coffee workers (25.8%) as compared to roasted coffee beans (2.7%). Symptoms are reported following long-term continuous coffee dust exposure but are reported to subside upon leaving the processing facilities. Incidence among coffee processors is believed to be between 10% and 30%, and is highly dependent upon amount of years worked in the industry, however one small study saw symptoms in 92% of workers (6,7).

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