A Primer in Occupational Environmental Medicine

Article excerpt

The purpose of this column is to provide information about the specialty of occupational and environmental medicine. Generally, adults spend one quarter of their life at work (the concern of occupational medicine), and the remaining three quarters of life is spent outside work (the concern of environmental medicine).

Classically, environmental medicine is a branch of medicine which deals with evaluating, treating and controlling exposure to physical agents like heat and cold, radiation, vibration or ultraviolet light. It also deals with exposure to chemicals and infectious agents. Exposure may occur with either an individual person or groups of people. It may occur in single dwellings or larger community settings.

The practice of environmental medicine requires the same specific training and certification as occupational medicine but emphasizes exposures encountered outside the workplace. The common ties between the two medicinal branches of occupational and environmental medicine are concern for the toxic effects of exposure, concern for individual and community health maintenance and appreciation for community health.

In Oklahoma, environmental health is understood to include air and water quality, food contamination and toxic exposures. Ordinarily the physician evaluates a patient with a health problem, determines what caused the problem, and how the exposure might be controlled.

Environmental illness in Oklahoma is surprisingly abundant. For example, air quality influences respiratory allergies, asthma and other chronic lung diseases, sinusitis and eye irritation. …