Article from the NIOSH Science Blog
Written by - Stephanie Stevens, MA - March 16th, 2015 1:30 pm ET
"At first it was only an annoyance. Jim thought it would go away.
Then it became dangerous.
Jim works at a big printing company that produces labels for consumer products. If you have a can of motor oil in your garage or a jar of hair mousse in your bathroom cabinet, chances are the label came out of his shop or from one of its three sister plants.
Fifty-two years old, Jim has worked at the plant as a press operator since it first opened almost 20 years ago. In the operation, workers load 80- to 100-pound rolls of paper or plastic onto eight massive rotary presses. Colorful water-based and fluorescent inks are kept in several five-gallon pails around each press. As needed, ink is pumped into troughs where the presses’ printing cylinders with their flexible rubber plates are mounted. The sheets of paper or plastic run through the cylinder, the rubber plates apply the ink at high speed, and bright labels emerge. The process is called flexography printing.
As a press operator, Jim is responsible for running the printing presses, which includes filling the pails with inks and additives as needed, inspecting printed labels for defects, and trouble shooting.
Jim had noticed on and off that his vision seemed blurry after a days’ work, but lately it had been happening more frequently. Now that Daylight Savings Time had ended, Jim was finding it hard to see as he drove home in the dark after his shift. The glare from oncoming headlights was almost blinding. “Could I be developing a cataract?” thought Jim—after all, his father had cataracts. At the urging of his wife, Jim scheduled a doctor’s appointment.
Over his lunch hour, Jim met with the doctor and described to her how he felt like he was looking through a fog by the end of day. The doctor proceeded to have Jim read the eye chart. She noted that he wasn’t able to read the last row of letters. She also observed that his cornea appeared cloudy.
She listened to Jim’s concern about cataracts but reassured him that even though his symptoms were consistent with cataracts, because his vision problems seemed to resolve by the next day a cataract was unlikely the cause of his vision problems.
Jim’s doctor also considered an abnormal swelling of the cornea known as corneal edema. Corneal edema is most commonly diagnosed in people 50 or older, like Jim. Patients typically complain of blurred vision or seeing “halos” just as Jim had. After a closer examination with a special microscope, the doctor saw some signs of swelling. The doctor prescribed eye drops to help reduce the swelling and ease the symptoms Jim was experiencing.
A few weeks went by and Jim’s vision was still blurred; the eye drops weren’t helping.
What could be causing Jim’s symptoms?"
This was the first installment in the NIOSH Workplace Medical Mystery Series. The name and certain personal details of this character are fictitious and do not represent an actual person or persons.
Stephanie Stevens, MA is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director.
View the November 23rd edition of the PSARA Newsletter for the solution to the mystery or view the artile here