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Women cleaning at home, work face more lung function decline

Pearl Toh
09 Mar 2018

Women who clean regularly, either at home or as an occupation, have accelerated lung function decline over time than those not engaged in cleaning, a new study reveals.

“The effect size was comparable to the effect size related to 10–20 pack-years of tobacco smoking,” said the researchers.

Over more than 20 years of follow-up, lung function decline in terms of FEV1 was 3.6 mL/year faster (p=0.01) in women responsible for cleaning at home and 3.9 mL/year faster (p=0.03) in those who worked as cleaners compared with women not engaged in cleaning. [Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2018;doi:10.1164/rccm.201706-1311OC]

Similarly, the decline in FVC was 4.3 mL/year faster (p=0.02) in women involved in cleaning at home and 7.1 ml/year faster (p=0.002) in women working as cleaners compared with those who did not clean.

Women who worked as cleaners, which include those who also cleaned at home, experienced the greatest decline in FEV1 (-22.4 mL/year) and FVC (-15.9 mL/year) over time compared with baseline; while women not engaged in cleaning at home and as an occupation showed the lowest decline in both measures.

Accelerated decline in FEV1 in women was seen regardless of whether cleaning sprays (-22.0 mL/year; p=0.04) or other non-spray cleaning products (-22.9 mL/year; p=0.04) were used.

In contrast, cleaning activities were not associated with lung function decline in men.

“The greater impact seen in women … could be mediated by a different susceptibility according to sex, as is reported … [in other] studies [which] have indicated that less exposure [to tobacco smoke and wood dust] in women is need to develop illness,” suggested the researchers.  

The lack of significant association in men could also be due to the small number of men who worked as cleaners (n=57), which according to the researchers, might limit the power to detect a difference compared with men who did not clean.     

Cleaning was not associated with declined FEV1/FVC ratio or increased chronic airway obstruction risk.

The multicentre study involved 6,230 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, who were assessed on lung function at least once over 20 years of follow-up. Questionnaires on cleaning activities were included.

Repetitive exposure to irritative or sensitizing chemicals in cleaning products may contribute to airway remodelling leading to lung function decline, said the researchers.

“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 lead author Øistein Svanes from the University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”




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01 Sep 2018

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