Cleaning chemicals 'as bad for women's lungs as smoking'

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Due to their findings, researchers see the need to focus on preventing the harmful effects of exposure to chemical cleaning products.

They were asked whether they cleaned their own house, or whether they worked as professional cleaners. The subjects had to respond to surveys regarding how much they use cleaning products, and how often.

The products seemed to affect the lung capacity of women who took part in the study more than men, though they noted the number of male participants was small compared to the number of female participants. Men who cleaned did not see the same decline as women who cleaned.

For that reason, the British Lung Foundation recommends cleaning products labeled as "Non-Allergic" because they contain less harmful chemicals.

Scientists in Norway have found that women who have worked as a cleaner, or have regularly used cleaning sprays for at least 20 years, showed a decline in their lung function equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over the same period. These women, the authors wrote, might "constitute a selected socioeconomic group".

The researchers said people should be careful choosing how they clean the surfaces in their homes.

Well, dishcloth-dodgers have the flawless excuse as scientists have claimed that cleaning your home can be just as damaging to your lungs as smoking.

The cleaning products may both irritate the lungs and cause persistent changes over time.

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"We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age", Svanes said.

The team analysed data from 6,235 participants whose average age was 34 when they enrolled and were then followed for more than 20 years.

Study limitations include the fact that the study population included very few women who did not clean at home or work.

Asthma was also more common in women who were exposed to cleaning agents - 13.7 percent of cleaning workers and 12.3 percent of the women that cleaned at home, compared with 9.6 percent of those who neither cleaned at home nor at work.

"When you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe the news is not so surprising after all", he explained.

The women - but not the men - who clean their homes or workplaces showed decreased lung function in exhalation tests, according to the paper in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

They suggesetd that this may be because men's lungs are less susceptible to the impact of cleaning chemicals. "These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes". His suggestion is to develop cleaning products that can't be inhaled, or use simpler cleaning methods.