Women who regularly use cleaning sprays or products will likely have a decrease in lung function similar to that of a cigarette smoker with a pack-a-day habit for up to 20 years, according to a wide-ranging Norwegian study that followed more than 6,000 adults for over two decades.
The study’s results for men, however, were less clear. Overall, the groups of men who clean at home, are professional cleaners or reported not cleaning at all, showed little declines in lung function compared to women.
This could be a result of biological differences between men and women or of the study’s sample size being too small for an accurate assessment, said lead researcher Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student at the Department for Clinical Science at the University of Bergen in Norway.
“It’s not possible to say that we didn’t see any effect on occupation male cleaners, because we have so few of those,” Mr. Svanes told The Washington Times.
A total of 57 male professional cleaners participated in the study. More than 1,300 men said they clean at home.
“That should have been enough to see if there was an effect on men, but still it’s very hard to say that since we didn’t find any difference,” Mr. Svanes said.
Titled “Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction,” the study was published last week in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Researchers followed 6,230 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, of which 53 percent were women. The average age of the participants was 34 at the start of the study, and they were followed for more than 20 years.
The researchers measured lung function on two accounts, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV-1) — the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale in one second — and forced vital capacity (FVC), the total amount of air a person can forcibly exhale.
Both are used as indicators for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that makes it harder to breath, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
In addition to cleaning history, the researchers included smoking history, body mass index and education in calculating the results.
Mr. Svanes said much research has looked at the relationship between cleaning products and asthma, while few have studied the long-term implications. Though there were no statistically significant observations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD in this cohort, the amount of lung-function decline did take researchers by surprise.
“This is problematic because so many people clean their houses. It’s such a daily activity, almost everyone is exposed. I think that is the problem,” Mr. Svanes said.
Women who regularly cleaned at home accounted for 2,808 participants in the study and had a 3.6 milliliter/year decline in FEV-1. The 293 women who worked as professional cleaners had a 3.9 ml/year decline.
Also, FVC declined by 4.3 ml/year for women who cleaned at home and 7.1 ml/year for women cleaners. These declines were not observed in the 197 women who reported not cleaning.
Common symptoms of decreased lung function include coughing, shortness of breath or asthma, Mr. Svanes said.
Asthma prevalence among women who cleaned at work was 13.7 percent and for women who cleaned at home, 12.3 percent. Only 9.6 percent of women who said they did not clean reported asthma.
Sprays and other cleaning agents were charged as responsible for the decline, the authors wrote, but they didn’t identify any specific products or chemicals.
Reducing the amount of “volatile organic compounds” typically found in cleaning products is one way to reduce the type of harm shown in the study, according to the British Lung Association.
Its website lists a number of cleaning products that are harmful to our breathing. This includes detergents; furniture polish; air fresheners; carpet cleaners; oven cleaners; pesticides and fungicides; paints and paint strippers; varnishes; and glues.
It is recommended to use a damp, microfiber cloth to wipe down surfaces. If a cleaning product is needed, look for allergy-friendly or fragrance-free products which will have a lower levels of chemicals.