London, Oct. 28: Doctors have added “cleaner’s chest” to the long list of occupational diseases, including housemaid’s knee and writer's cramp, due to new evidence that domestic cleaners have an increased risk of asthma.
Respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma were found to be more than twice as common among women who had worked as cleaners than among those who had not. The researchers estimated that a quarter of the asthma cases in their study could be attributed to domestic cleaning work.
Cases were highest in women who had given up being domestic cleaners. The researchers suggest this may be because their chest conditions were bad enough to make them leave their jobs.
With working women increasingly employing cleaners and unknown numbers of people cleaning their own homes, the authors say their findings, published in the journal Thorax, may be very significant.
They say cleaners are often exposed to a wide range of materials found in cleaning products, as well as to common allergens such as house dust mites and pet dander.
The survey was conducted among a random sample of 5,000 women from Barcelona, Spain, and its surroundings.
Out of 4,521 women who completed the survey, 593 were working as cleaners and nearly four out of 10 had worked as cleaners at some time.
Josep Anto, from the Municipal Institute of Medical Research, Barcelona, and colleagues found that 12 per cent of domestic cleaners, current and former, had asthma and chronic bronchitis compared with only 5 per cent of women who had never been cleaners.
Women who worked as cleaners in hospitals and health clinics also had an increased risk. Those who cleaned in hotels, laboratories and kitchens had a slightly greater chance of having respiratory diseases but not significantly so. Women who cleaned offices had no increased risk.
“The high risk of asthma attributable to domestic cleaning suggests a substantial public health impact,” Anto says.
According to a study by the Work Foundation this summer, one in 10 women in Britain employs a cleaner.
John Harvey, the chairperson of the communications committee 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.”