Night shift work is associated with an increased risk of asthma

Maidstone R, Turner J, Vetter C, et alNight shift work is associated with an increased risk of asthmaThorax Published Online First: 16 November 2020. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-215218

Respiratory epidemiologyOriginal research



 Shift work causes misalignment between internal circadian time and the external light/dark cycle and is associated with metabolic disorders and cancer. Approximately 20% of the working population in industrialised countries work permanent or rotating night shifts, exposing this large population to the risk of circadian misalignment-driven disease. Analysis of the impact of shift work on chronic inflammatory diseases is lacking. We investigated the association between shift work and asthma.

Methods We describe the cross-sectional relationship between shift work and prevalent asthma in >280000 UK Biobank participants, making adjustments for major confounding factors (smoking history, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity, body mass index). We also investigated chronotype.

Results Compared with day workers, ‘permanent’ night shift workers had a higher likelihood of moderate-severe asthma (OR 1.36 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.8)) and all asthma (OR 1.23 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.46)). Individuals doing any type of shift work had higher adjusted odds of wheeze/whistling in the chest. Shift workers who never or rarely worked on nights and people working permanent nights had a higher adjusted likelihood of having reduced lung function (FEV1 <80% predicted). We found an increase in the risk of moderate-severe asthma in morning chronotypes working irregular shifts, including nights (OR 1.55 (95% CI 1.06 to 2.27)).

Conclusions The public health implications of these findings are far-reaching due to the high prevalence and co-occurrence of both asthma and shift work. Future longitudinal follow-up studies are needed to determine if modifying shift work schedules to take into account chronotype might present a public health measure to reduce the risk of developing inflammatory diseases such as asthma.

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