‘Women working as cleaners face increased lung function decline’

Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays at home may experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, a study has found.

“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” said Cecile Svanes from the University of Bergen in Norway.

“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,” Svanes said.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the researchers analysed data from 6,235 participants.

The scientists found that asthma was more prevalent in women who cleaned at home (12.3 per cent) or at work (13.7 per cent) compared to those who did not clean (9.6 per cent).

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

The researchers 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 remodelling.

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