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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 00:40 GMT
Cleaners' increased asthma risk
Woman cleaning the floor
Cleaning chemicals could contribute to risk
Cleaners are at an increased risk of developing asthma and other breathing problems, a study has found.

Researchers in Spain say domestic cleaners are at an increased risk because of the chemicals to which they are exposed.

Writing in the journal Thorax, they said cleaners had twice the risk of women in other jobs.

Anyone doing household chores could come into contact with irritants in cleaning products, they said.

Housewives and others doing cleaning tasks at home are probably also at risk
Dr Josep Anto, Municipal Institute of Medical Research
Asthma is the most common lung disease acquired in the workplace in industrialised countries, linked to around 20% of cases in adults.

Women were asked if they had experienced any respiratory symptoms and if they had been diagnosed or treated for asthma in the previous year.

They were also asked if they had ever been paid to clean somebody else's home.

Hospital work

Four out of 10 had worked as a domestic cleaner at some time, and 593 (13%) were currently employed in domestic cleaning work.

The researchers found one in eight women had asthma, and one in six had bronchitis.

They estimated 25% of the asthma cases in their study could be linked to domestic cleaning work.

Rates of respiratory symptoms which could be attributed to work among domestic cleaners were more than double those of other jobs - 12% among current and former cleaners and 5% among those who had never worked as cleaners.

Women working as cleaners in hospitals or health care centres instead of houses also had an increased risk of developing asthma and bronchitis.

Working as an office cleaner was not linked to increased risk.

The researchers, led by Dr Josep Anto, said people cleaning their own homes were also exposed to a variety of cleaning products, dust and dirt.

Inhaling chemicals

Writing in Thorax, they said: "Domestic cleaning workers are exposed to a large variety of cleaning products containing both irritants and sensitisers, as well as indoor allergens.

"Consequently it can be hypothesised that the onset or aggravation of asthma in domestic cleaners could be related to an irritant-induced mechanism or to specific sensitisation."

They added: "The high risk of asthma attributable to domestic cleaning suggests a substantial public health impact, which might be even greater if we take into consideration that housewives and others doing cleaning tasks at home are probably also at risk."

They said further research was needed to identify what was specifically responsible for the increased risk of asthma among domestic cleaners.

Dr John Harvey, of the British Thoracic Society, said: "We have known for many years that certain occupations have an increased risk of developing lung conditions such as asthma and it is important that employers take the necessary steps to help protect their staff.

"It is also important that the general public are aware of the risks associated with inhaling certain chemicals including cleaning products and should see their GP if they develop breathlessness, cough or wheeze."

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