Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, according to a new study.
Cleaners who have regularly used cleaning sprays over 20 years were found to have reduced lung function equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over the same period, a Norwegian study study found.
”People who have worked as cleaners or done household cleaning for 20 years have reduced lung function equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day, for the same period of time,” according to lead author, Ph.D candidate Oistein Svanes, at the Department of Clinical Sciences, at the University of Bergen.
Harmful to Lungs
He says his findings might not be surprising, when thinking about all the small particles that follow with cleaning products.
The study also shows that cleaners have 40 per cent higher risk of developing asthma than others.
The research includes 6 000 participants, based on the European Community Respiratory Health Survey.
That level of lung impairment was surprising at first, said lead study author Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student also at the Department for Clinical Science. “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.”
The authors speculate that the decline in lung function is attributable to the irritation that most cleaning chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining the airways, which over time results in persistent changes in the airways and airway remodeling.
The authors found that the accelerated lung function decline in the women working as cleaners was “comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 pack-years.”
“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” said senior study author Cecile Svanes, MD, PhD, a professor at the university’s Centre for International Health. He says the cleaning sprays are the main problem.
“The small particles from the sprays can remain in the air for hours after cleaning. The small particles can travel deep into the lungs and cause infections, and ageing of the lungs,” Svanes explains.
“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.”
Replace Cleaning Sprays with Water Bucket
He also said, “I would recommend using a bucket of water and soap when cleaning. You will not need a lot of chemicals after all, when cleaning. Microfibre cloths may be just as effective,” Cecile Svanes points out.
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed data from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. The participants, whose average age was 34 when they enrolled, were followed for more than 20 years.
The study found that compared to women not engaged in cleaning:
- FEV1 declined 3.6 mL/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 3.9 mL/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.
- FVC declined 4.3 mL/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 7.1 mL/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.
Regular exposure to cleaning products significantly affects lung function, research has suggested.
The study of 6,000 people by a team from Norway’s University of Bergen, found women appeared to be more badly affected than men.
They said cleaning chemicals were “unnecessary” and microfiber cloths and water were “enough for most purposes”.
UK experts said people should keep their homes well ventilated and use liquid cleaners instead of sprays.
The team looked at data from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey.
Previous studies have looked at the short-term effect of cleaning chemicals on asthma, but this work looked at the longer term.
Prof Cecile Svanes, who led the Bergen team, said: “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.”
Microfiber cloths and water ‘enough’
Adults in the study, published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, were followed for more than 20 years.
Their lung function was measured by looking at how much air people could forcibly breath out – and the amount declined more over the years in women who cleaned.
The authors suggest the chemicals in cleaning products irritate the mucous membranes that line the airways of the lungs, causing long-term damage.
No difference was seen between men who cleaned and those who did not.
The researchers said that could partly be explained by there being far fewer men working as cleaners, but also suggested women might be more susceptible to the chemicals’ effects.
Oistein Svanes, who also worked on the study, said: “The take-home message is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs.
“These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”
Sarah MacFadyen, from the British Lung Foundation said: “Breathing in any kind of air pollution can have an impact on our health, especially for those living with a lung condition.
“This study further confirms that air pollution can come from a range of sources, including from paints, adhesives and cleaning products we use indoors.
“Ensuring we keep our homes well ventilated, using liquid cleaners instead of sprays and checking that our cookers and heaters are in good working order will help protect us and prevent everyday products impacting on our lungs.”