Respiratory Concerns In The Sign Shop
By Sarah Clark ...Schwartz on IRC

Many of you have expressed interest in information on occupational illness in the sign trade, so here it is, finally. I will tell you some of my personal experiences and give you other info I have found and where to contact sources for further information.

I went many years never associating my problems with respiratory illness and believe it or not when I was getting so little air I couldn't walk 5 minutes without resting, I thought it was fatigue due to I knew not what, causing the problem. I first starting having trouble at night over 14 years ago. I would feel like the air was stale and go stick my head out the window. At one point in the winter I ended up staying outside most of the time to get enough air. At this time I went to a Doctor. He told me it was nerves and cabin fever. Yes, I am a female and he was "one of those " kind of Doctors. So I continued with spells of raw and hoarse throat and cold like symptoms until I could no longer function. I also would have uncontrollable coughing spells, most often in the morning and when talking. Then, luckily found a Dr. who immediately suspected environmental allergic problems. He finally pin pointed it to asthma and chronic allergic bronchitis.

It took many months of trying different medicines to finally get things under control. I have a form of Asthma that is continuous and builds up in severity if I don't monitor it and use my inhalers. I do not wheeze, but get a whistling sound in my chest, sweating and shakiness. There are a lot of symptoms and warning signals, which a person can have. I use a peak flow meter to check my airflow as often I won't be sure it is lessening. Incidentally, I never connected "shortness of breath" with how I was feeling, but when I heard the term "air hunger", I immediately connected. I also have short term memory problems and difficulty keeping my balance in total darkness, most probably from years of solvent exposure.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease also called reactive airways disease. It is characterized by inflammation of the airways, triggered by a stimulus, which leads to narrowing of the airways. This increased sensitivity of the airways leads to muscle spasms (bronchospasms) which further narrow the airways. Medications include albuterol inhalers such as Proventil, Theophylline, inhaled corticosteroids (pills and inhalers), Cromolyn and anticholinergics. There is a new long lasting inhaler out called Seravent. WARNING: Seravent caused my always normal blood pressure to skyrocket into the extremely dangerous range.


Most people will have one or more of the following warning signs hours before an attack occurs. Warning signs aren't the same for everyone and you may have different signs at different times.

  • Difficulty breathing or getting out of breath easily
  • Breathing faster than normal
  • Chest starts to get tight or aches
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Moodiness
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Chronic Cough, especially at night
  • Chin or throat itchiness
  • Itchy, scratchy or sore throat
  • Tiredness
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Change in face color
  • Trouble sleeping


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are termed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


Chronic inflammatory disease of the bronchi caused by chronic bronchial irritation characterized by cough and chest pain. There can be broncospasms like in asthma.


A condition that occurs when people have short episodes where they stop breathing while asleep. If my asthma gets bad when I am sleeping this happens to me. I will wake up and have to make a forceful effort to start breathing.

Info from: Center for Safety in the Arts 5 Beekman Street, New York, New York 10038 ph# 212/227-6220

"Classic occupational asthma involves exposure to a sensitizing agent for a period ranging from weeks to years before developing asthmatic symptoms. Once sensitization occurs, exposure to even trace amounts can result in an asthmatic attack, usually within minutes of exposure."

"Bronchitis and other respiratory responses to irritants usually involve exposure to much higher concentrations of chemicals." (Such as professional painters receive)

Chronic inhalation of large amounts of solvents could result in decreased coordination, behavioral changes and brain damage."

Info from:

NIOSH ( National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health)

Robert A. Taft Laboratories
4676 Columbia Parkway
Cincinnati OH 45226-1998
ph# 1-800-356-4674

If you request info on paints, solvents and lead they will send you a lot of info. Below are a few excerpts. Interestingly very little research on this has been done in the US.

"Results from a preliminary survey of nearly 1000 painters attending a convention from four localities in the US, showed a significantly increased prevalance of airway obstruction as determined by spirometry in 26% of the non-smokers"

"Chronic bronchitis, characterized by dyspnea (shortness of breath), fixed obstruction of small airways and their scarring and obliteration is a most important industrial disease which painters are liable to develop."

ORGANIC SOLVENT NEUROTOXICITY can cause "impaired psychomotor function as measured by reaction time, manual dexterity, coordination, or body balance."

By end of workshift "Sleepiness, mental and physical tiredness" Also can cause fatigue, memory impairment, irritability, difficulty in concentrating, and mild mood disturbance, slowing of manual dexterity and perceptual speed, and short-term memory loss. These symptoms can become irreversible if sustained long enough.

Exposure to benzene is suspected in causing leukemia.


  • Short-term exposure: decreased appetite, insomnia, headache, muscle and joint pain, colic, and constipation.
  • Long-term: weakness, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, constipation, blue or blueblack dot-like pigmentation on tfhe gums, severe headaches and abdominal cramps, delerium, convulsions, and coma.

The first two of the following organizations will send you excellent booklets on asthma and chronic bronchitis, free of charge. They have websites but the printed info is much more informative.


1400 Jackson Street
Denver Colorado 80206
ph# (800)222-LUNG
They have nurses answering this line to help answer your questions and send you info.


ph# 1-800-LUNG-USA



MEDICINENET (excellent info on many illnesses and medicines)
(excellant information on a variety of illnesses and medications)

Allergy Asthma Technology Ltd.

P.O. Box 18389
Chicago, IL 60618
(source of items for allergic and asthmatic persons)

(Good explanation of terms used in respiratory illnesses)
http:// Encyclopedia/Menu.HTML

Chronic Bronchitis Disabilities Access


If you have respiratory problems be sure to get a flu shot and the one time pneumonia vaccination!

You can e-mail me at

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