Background: The diagnosis of occupational asthma requires objective confirmation. Analysis of serial measurements of peak expiratory flow (PEF) is usually the most convenient first step in the diagnostic process. A new method of analysis originally developed to detect late asthmatic reactions following specific inhalation testing is described. This was applied to serial PEF measurements made over many days in the workplace to supplement existing methods of PEF analysis.
Methods: 236 records from workers with independently diagnosed occupational asthma and 320 records from controls with asthma were available. The pooled standard deviation for rest day measurements was obtained from an analysis of variance by time. Work day PEF measurements were meaned into matching 2-hourly time segments. Time points with mean work day PEF statistically lower (at the Bonferroni adjusted 5% level) than the rest days were counted after adjusting for the number of contributing measurements.
Results: A minimum of four time point comparisons were needed. Records with ⩾2 time points significantly lower on work days had a sensitivity of 67% and a specificity of 99% for the diagnosis of occupational asthma against independent diagnoses. Reducing the requirements to ⩾1 non-waking time point difference increased sensitivity to 77% and reduced specificity to 93%. The analysis was only applicable to 43% of available records, mainly due to differences in waking times on work and rest days.
Conclusion: Time point analysis complements other validated methods of PEF analysis for the diagnosis of occupational asthma. It requires shorter records than are required for the Oasys score and can identify smaller changes than other methods, but is dependent on low rest day PEF variance.
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Funding VCM has a PhD fellowship from the COLT Foundation.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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