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Household cleaning products could impair lung function
February 24, 2018, 2:07 pm

Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home or in the workplace appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time, says a new study by researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway.

Researchers analyzed data from 6,235 participants, whose average age was 34 when they first enrolled in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey more than 20 years ago. For the last two decades their health data had been monitored and recorded as part of the survey.

Using this extensive data, the researchers were able to identify both short term and long term effects of cleaning products on the lungs of participants. The study found that compared to women not engaged in cleaning:

Forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), or the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale in one second, declined 3.6 milliliters (ml)/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 3.9 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.

Forced vital capacity (FVC), or the total amount of air a person can forcibly exhale, declined 4.3 ml/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 7.1 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.

The researchers found that the accelerated lung function decline in the women working as cleaners was "comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 pack-years — one pack-year is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes (1 pack) per day for 1 year.

That level of lung impairment might appear surprising at first, but 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, said the researchers.

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

The take home message of this study 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. Research team urged public health officials to strictly regulate cleaning products and encourage producers to develop cleaning agents that cannot be inhaled.

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