Cleaning up: Asthma link

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  • Published: May 15, 2015
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Cleaning up: Asthma link

Clean sweep

Patient, asthma inhaler photo by Tricia Bradley

The use of specific cleaning products and sprays at work, mainly irritants such as hydrochloric acid and ammonia solution, exacerbate symptoms in cleaners with asthma, according to a statistical analysis on use and symptoms.

Asthma, from the Greek word for "panting", is a chronic lung disease, characterised by an inflammatory response in the airways, bronchospasm and increased mucus production, that lead to difficulties breathing. The condition is often worsened by allergens, airborne irritants, but symptomatic breathlessness, wheezing and coughing can also be triggered by exercise and other factors in some sufferers. There are numerous medications that treat the primary symptom, bronchospasm, and many others that are aimed at reducing inflammation. Nevertheless, there are many occupational hazards that can cause a potentially debilitating and even life-threatening response in known sufferers and even people not previously known to have the condition.

Lung function

Now, an international team from Spain, Canada, The Netherlands and USA, writing in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine explain how they have evaluated the short-term effects of various cleaning products on lung function and respiratory symptoms among professional cleaning women. They followed 21 women with asthma all of whom are employed as cleaners over a fifteen-day period. The women self-reported their day to day use of cleaning products. The women were also asked to record any asthma symptoms and to measure and record their forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and peak expiratory flow (PEF) three times each day using handheld measuring devices commonly used in the doctor's surgery for assessing asthma patients.

Acid problem

The team analysed the resulting data with Poisson mixed regression models and looked for patterns in changing FEV1 and PEF values using linear mixed regression analyses to uncover any correlation with the use of particular cleaning products. The cleaners reported having used two different types of cleaning product at work on average, and exposure to at least one irritant was common - hypochlorite bleach type products, ammonia-based cleaners and those based on hydrochloric acid. Exposure to the most irritating cleaning products occurred on more than half the days on average.

The team reports that they saw lower respiratory tract symptoms coinciding with the use of hydrochloric acid and detergents. Worryingly, FEV1 and PEF values found to be lower on days when the cleaners used three or more spray products and evening and next morning FEV1 were both lower after hydrochloric acid and solvents were used. They also saw a significant change across the day in FEV1 and PEF on days when the women used ammonia products and limescale removers.

The conclusion is perhaps obvious that cleaning agents that are known irritants when used in spray form for their specified purpose can exacerbate asthma symptoms in women using those products.

"Our project, EPIASLI-2, is now fully reported with this article," Vizcaya told SpectroscopyNOW. He points out that other studies within the overall project were published in: VIzcaya et al. Occupat Environmen Med 2011; Mirabelli et al. Contact Dermatitis, 2012; and Vizcaya et al. Respirat Med, 2013. "There is an increasing interest in the health effects of cleaning-related exposures both in occupational and domestic settings, he adds. "In my opinion, the next step will be to explore the potential role of cleaning-related exposures in the onset of malignant diseases." He explains that at the 2013 EPICOH conference in Utrecht, he presented the results of an analysis of a case-control study in multiple cancer sites and the exposure to cleaning agents showing a potential indication of increased risk of haematologic and pancreatic cancers.

Related Links

Occupat Environ Med 2015, online: "Cleaning products and short-term respiratory effects among female cleaners with asthma"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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