A survey of about 200 workers in a processsing factory found that 26 women who remove prawn shells with hand-held water jets had the symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and breathing difficulties.
The scientists discovered that the workers had inhaled a protein called tropomyosin which is found in the muscles of prawns. In 15 the protein had caused an allergy typically seen in asthma sufferers.
Charles McSharry, of the research team at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, said it is believed to be the first time prawn protein has been shown to trigger asthmatic attacks.
The researchers will present the results of the study to the British Thoracic Society. 'Most of the 26 people complained of several symptoms together, such as runny nose, conjunctivitis and skin rashes, but all described having a shortage of breath.'
The water jets used by the workers were ideal for creating an aerosol containing the prawn protein. Those who smoked were also found to be more likely to develop asthma symptoms.
A survey to be published today says workers with occupational asthma suffer more problems with promotion and employment than people who have asthma from other causes.