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Women who clean a lot at work at risk of increased lung function decline


Women who regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at work appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not, according to new research.

Norwegian researchers concluded that the accelerated lung function decline in the women working as cleaners was “comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 pack-years”.

“We feared that such chemicals might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age”

Cecile Svanes

They suggested the decline was caused by the irritation impact that most cleaning chemicals had on the mucous membranes lining the airways, which over time resulted in changes to the airways.

The University of Bergen researchers analyzed data from 6,235 participants in a previous major study called the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. The participants had an average age of 34 when they enrolled in the study and were then followed for more than 20 years.

The study found that, compared to women not engaged in cleaning, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), declined 3.9ml a year faster in women who worked as cleaners.

In addition, forced vital capacity (FVC) declined 7.1 ml a year faster in women who worked as cleaners, according to the study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“In the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs”

Øistein Svanes

The study also found that asthma was more prevalent in women who cleaned at home (12.3%) or at work (13.7%), compared to those who did not clean (9.6%).

However, the study did not find that the ratio of FEV1 to FVC declined more rapidly in women who cleaned – the metric used when diagnosing and monitoring chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Additionally, men who cleaned, either at home or at work, were not found to have experienced greater decline in FEV1 or FVC than men who did not.

The researchers took into account factors that might have biased the results, including smoking history, body mass index and education.

Previous studies have also linked exposure to disinfectants with breathing problems such as asthma among healthcare workers, as reported by Nursing Times.

Professor Cecile Svanes, senior author of the new study, said: “While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact.

“We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age,” she said.

Regarding the level of accelerated lung function decline in the women working as cleaners that they found, the study authors said it was surprising to them at first.

Lead author and doctoral student Øistein Svanes said: “However, when you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all.

University of Bergen

Nurses who clean the most may be at respiratory risk

Cecile Svanes

“The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” Mr Svanes said.

“These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes,” he said.

He added that public health officials should strictly regulate cleaning products and encourage producers to develop cleaning agents that cannot be inhaled.


Readers' comments (6)

  • So perhaps hospitals will have to introduce the wearing of face masks when people are cleaning? Precautions will have to be taken and the trusts need to take action.

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  • nurses?

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  • Several years of splashing various nastier, now banned cleaning chemicals around and no sign yet of breathing problems. Cleaners have more to fear than the many nurses who run for the ‘domestic’ rather than deal with it themselves.

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  • Why are nurses cleaning? I am all for helping in an emergency, however routine cleaning is surely carried out by housekeeping staff, (who undertake an invaluable job for poor pay.) I don't know of any teachers who clean their classrooms after hours, or help mop out the children's toilets! And I'm fairly sure a doctor has rarely if ever been asked to clean up when a patient has vomited in the corridor. So why is it considered a nurses job to clean? Is it any wonder respect is thin on the ground if we are seen as glorified domestic staff.

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  • At my hospital the cleaning staff (who are some private company, not part of NHS) are not allowed to clean up any "bodily fluids" because they're not qualified to do it apparently...common sense would think that should be day one of their training seeing as they work in a hospital! I don't remember having any training about how to clean up p**s and s**t on my nursing course, but whatever! They're also not allowed to clean any of the equipment. So there is a fair bit of cleaning in my job.

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  • Everyone has a responsibility to clean after themselves. It is NOT just the domestics job. Why do people think because they are a nurse there is no cleaning?? Get a grip!!

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