Women Who Use Cleaning Products Could Be At Risk Of Suffering Lung Damage

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Making sure one’s house is clean and tidy may seem like a good and productive way to pass the time. But new research suggests that it might not be all that healthy for everyone, as the chemicals found in cleaning products could damage women’s lungs through regular exposure.

In a study published this week in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway found that ammonia and other chemicals found in cleaning products might irritate the mucous membranes lining the airways. This, as noted by Science Daily, leads to the remodeling and reshaping of the airways, increasing the risk of several diseases of the respiratory system.

According to the researchers, the progressively faster lung function decline in women who clean at home or work as cleaners for a living was comparable to the damage caused by 20 pack-years, with one pack-year equivalent to 20 cigarettes a day over a span of a year.

The University of Bergen researchers studied data from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey for their paper, looking at the records of 6,235 men and women who took part in the study. The subjects had an average age of 34 at the time the survey began, and were followed up on for over two decades, which allowed the researchers to gauge the long-term effects of chemical agents in cleaning products on the lungs.

In a statement, senior author Cecile Svanes, a professor at the University of Bergen’s Center for International Health, commented that it’s long been known that cleaning products could aggravate asthma in the short-term. The new study, however, focused on the bigger picture, allowing Svanes and her colleagues to see how the chemicals affected women’s lungs over a substantial period of time.

“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.”

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Based on their analysis, women who engaged in cleaning at work or at home experienced faster declines in two key metrics — forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) — as compared to women who did not clean on a regular basis. Initially, the researchers were shocked by these findings, but as study lead author Oistein Svanes remarked, the lung function decline shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as cleaning agents are “meant for cleaning the floor, and not your lungs.”

According to BBC News, there was no apparent decline in lung function found in the male subjects, but that also highlighted one of the key limitations of the study — there weren’t too many men who worked as cleaners. Additionally, only a few of the female participants did not do any cleaning at home or at work, and the survey analyzed by the researchers appeared to focus on one socioeconomic group. However, the researchers believe that cleaning products might have a more evidently negative effect on women’s lungs than men.

“The take-home message is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” said Oistein Svanes.

“These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”