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.’
Related article on NursingTimes.net: Payout for anaphylactic shock from latex gloves