Harmful chemicals in cleaning products 'increase risk of lung damage'

Scrubbing at the kitchen surfaces and disinfecting the bathroom may seem like a sure fire way to eradicate dangerous bugs and germs.

But, in trying to protect the health of your nearest and dearest, you could be putting your own health at risk.

For cleaning exposes people to potentially harmful agents, which increase the risk of lung damage.

A new study, by scientists at the University of Bergen, found people who regularly clean their homes are at 14 per cent greater risk of experiencing a decline in their lung function over the next 20 years.

And the harmful substances are typically found in a range of products, from washing up liquids and bleach to floor cleaners.

Oistein Svanes, a PhD student who led the study, said: "We need to start being much more aware of the chemicals we are releasing into the air we breathe when we use things like cleaning spray."

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Risky chemicals to watch out for – and how to avoid them

There are many ingredients that can cause asthma if you’re using them in the home though not all asthmatics will be affected.
Some of the more common are:
– Benzalkonium chloride (quaternary ammonium compound) – typically used as a disinfectant in household cleaners for floors and hard services
– Chlorine-based agents (sodium hypochlorite) – used as the active ingredient in bleach
– Some scents within cleaning agents e.g. limonene, which gives some products their ‘citrus’ smell
– Isothiazolinones – used in some washing up liquids and laundry washing liquids
To reduce exposure, the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign recommends you check the ingredients and avoid products that will put you at risk, follow the instructions on labels, use wipes rather than sprays so there are fewer airborne particles to inhale, open doors and windows to ventilate while cleaning and go and seek advice from your GP if you are concerned about the impacted of chemicals in products on your lungs.

The study looked at a sample of more than 5,000 people from The European Community Respiratory Health Survey, over a period of two decades.

The data revealed those people who clean for a living experienced a 17 per cent greater decline in lung function compared to the average person on the street.

Cleaning exposes people to chemicals including ammonia, which can irritate the airways, and other substances that can cause allergic airway disease.

In the past, studies have highlighted an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among professional cleaners, making it one of the occupations at greatest risk of developing the condition.

However, the new study, which will be presented at the European Respiratory Society's International Congress which starts on Saturday, is the first to look at the long-term dangers of being exposed to cleaning agents.

With lower lung function leaving people at greater risk of respiratory health issues, the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign is encouraging anyone who experiences any lung symptoms at home or in the workplace to talk to their GP and get their lungs tested.

Commenting on the study, Professor Jørgen Vestbo, president of ERS and professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester, said: “Cleaning products can put people’s health at risk.

"So people should be aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate against them – if people have genuine concerns they should ensure that they discuss any symptoms and the possible link with their workplace with their doctor."

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