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Using hospital cleaning products increases nurses' risk of developing asthma

Nurses and HCAs who are regularly exposed to hospital cleaning products and disinfectants have a significantly increased risk of developing asthma, say US researchers.

They studied over 3,000 healthcare workers, including 448 nurses, whose jobs involved regular use of cleaning products, including glutaraldehyde for the cold sterilisation of medical instruments.

They found that nurses who regularly came into contact with cleaning products and disinfectants were 72% more likely to say they had been newly-diagnosed with asthma than other subjects, and 57% more likely to report symptoms similar to asthma.

The team from the University of North Carolina also looked at the effect that powdered latex gloves, and the use of solvents, glues or adhesives, had on the nurses’ reported incidence of asthma.

Nurses working with solvents and glues used in patient care were 51% more likely to say they had symptoms similar to asthma, the researchers said online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

‘Substituting cleaning agents with environmentally friendly ‘green chemicals’ and using appropriate personal care protection could help minimise occupational exposures in this professional group,’ the authors suggested.

Jane Scullion, consultant nurse in respiratory medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: ‘These study results show that occupational asthma is a growing problem. It is worrying that there are a lot of nurses whose lungs are potentially being harmed.’

Kim Sunley, the RCN’s senior employment relations advisor, added: ‘Although you shouldn’t see glutaraldehyde or powdered latex gloves used on UK wards anymore, we still need to remain vigilant because there are a lot of new chemicals being brought in to fight infections and it is not always possible to find safer alternatives.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • in the summer of 2008 I expressed concern that the cleaning product we used on the wards ie Chlor clean,was liable to emit chlorine gas,the same gas that was used in the gas attacks in WW1.
    It was also evident that people were experiencing respiratory problems since it was introduced.
    The response was that no complaints had been received and the product was safe if instructions for use were followed.Also that the product was highly efficient in combatting MRSA and CDT.
    I felt that my concerns were dealt wth lightly.
    However in the last week or so a H&S person was on the wards aparently investigating the use and effects of this product.
    I am now left feeling that myconcerns were justified and had been trivialised.
    Can anyone clarify the position for me.

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  • I agree that steps should be taken to ensure that Chlor-clean is safe for use - anything which causes wheezing and a burning sensation in the eyes should not have to be used on a regular basis by nursing staff i.e everytime they have to clean down a commode, etc.

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  • I have been employed for 1 year in an nhs trust hospital and so far I have had 4 sickness absences due to acute laryingitis. I have been using nitrile gloves and now I fear it is the chlor-clean tablets that are the culprit. It seems to occur about 2 days after I have been on duty. I get a dry throat, cannot swallow easily ,then my voice starts to disappear, I then have a tickly cough which turns into something quite chesty. I understand that it is not contagious but would you like to be nursed by someone who appears like this?

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