Research/studies Services Workplace exposures Respiratory conditions

Cleaning workers face heightened risk of asthma, COPD: study

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London — Workers who use cleaning and disinfecting products may be more likely to develop asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – 50% and 43%, respectively – than those who don’t, results of a recent study led by British and Italian researchers show.

The researchers conducted a systemic review of 39 articles and a meta-analysis of 21 studies on a broad range of respiratory health effects among cleaning workers.

Fifteen of the 21 studies analyzed to help determine asthma risk used cleaning occupations as a proxy for occupational exposure to cleaning agents. The researchers found evidence supporting positive exposure relationship tied to the duration of employment or exposure to cleaning agents. Three large population-based studies were used to quantify increased COPD risk. Two of them confirmed the findings among participants who never smoked and didn’t have asthma. Thus, residual confounding of tobacco and asthma could be ruled out.

The researchers also found weaker positive associations for bronchial hyper-responsiveness, lower and upper respiratory track symptoms, and rhinitis. Respiratory track symptoms included cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and itchy or runny nose.


The researchers note that the results are particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, because both the use of and exposure to cleaning products have increased globally for infection control purposes. They say preventive measures to reduce exposure to cleaning products should be implemented, along with strengthened respiratory health surveillance of cleaning workers to detect early signs of respiratory health effects.

The study was published online Nov. 24 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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