Office hazards: Women working as cleaners face increased lung function decline

PeopleImages via Getty Images

PeopleImages via Getty Images

In fact, they said using cleaning products for 20 years is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 to 20 years for women.

Women have another reason to make men pick up a larger share of housework, with a new study that says cleaning at home affects a female's lung function but not a male's. The number of men who worked as occupational cleaners was also small, and their exposure to cleaning agents was likely different from that of women working as cleaning professionals.

The group took lung function tests: the maximum forced vital capacity assessment (FVC) measured how much air they could exhale at once, and the maximum forced expired volume in one second (FEV1) examination measured just the first second of forced air.

A study publishing in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (catchy name, lads) looked at data from more than 6,200 participants, tracking their health over the course of 20 years.

Explaining the effects, Dr. Cecile Svanes of the University of Bergen, who carried out the study said: "While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact".

"In the long run, cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs", said the lead author of the study, Prof Oistein Svanes.

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The men who cleaned, in the meantime, did not experience greater decline in the exhale tests than those who did not clean. The accelerated lung decline was "comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 pack-years", they conclude.

The researcher said he had expected cleaning agents to have a negative effect on people's health.

"There were indeed very few men who worked as cleaners, only 57 people, which made it hard to detect a possible difference", Oistein Svanes, the first author of the study, told NRK.

"This study further confirms that air pollution can come from a range of sources, including from paints, adhesives and cleaning products we use indoors".

The study did find 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).

"Public health officials should strictly regulate cleaning products and encourage producers to develop cleaning agents that can not be inhaled".

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