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Women, Stop Cleaning to Protect Your Lungs!

S u m m a r y :
Women who work as cleaners or who use cleaning sprays at home appear to be more susceptible to lung function decline than women who do not clean, says a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Women, Stop Cleaning!

Women, put aside your cleaning sprays and stop cleaning! Or so would suggest the new research, conducted by a team from the University of Bergen, Norway. Women using cleaning sprays show greater lung function decline over time as opposed to women who do not clean. The conclusion comes after the analysis of data obtained from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey; the volunteers were followed for over 2 decades after they first enlisted their participation for the study.

The investigators were concerned about the potential harm of chemicals used in such sprays; they wanted to look into the long-term effects on the lungs.

“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” says senior study author Cecile Svanes. “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.”

Harm Likened to Smoking

According to the findings, women who would clean had a lower amount of air that a person can forcibly exhale (forced expiratory volume; FEV) than women not engaged in cleaning. FEV also declined faster in women who cleaned at home, and even faster for those who worked as cleaners.

The same trend can be seen in the total amount of air one can forcibly exhale (forced vital capacity; FVC).

The accelerated lung function decline in women-cleaners were even similar to smoking. Though unbelievable, the results make sense, comment the authors.

“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,” lead study author Øistein Svanes.

Cleaning Chemicals Are Irritating

How are cleaning sprays linked to decline in lung function? The researchers suggest that the majority of cleaning chemicals cause irritation to the mucous membranes lining the airways, and continuous and persistent exposure to them might be reshaping the air pathway over time.

Cleaning & Asthma

Another interesting finding is that asthma was more common among women who cleaned at home or at work than those who did not clean.

What About Men?

Apparently, men do not experience these effects. The study did not find any link between declined lung function and men cleaning at home or at work, though they did factor in smoking history, body mass index, and education, all variables that could have affected the results.

On the other hand, the authors caution against a limitation of their study: only few women who did not clean were involved in the research, and men-cleaners also constituted a small group. Regardless, the team highlights the potential long-term dangers associated with the chemicals.

“The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” said Øistein Svanes. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”

Regulating Cleaning Products

The researchers advise that strict regulations should govern cleaning products, and that manufacturers are to be encouraged to produce chemicals that cannot be breathed in.


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