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 new research published online in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
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.
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.”
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.
“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. “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.”