Asthma link to cleaning jobs supported

Published on January 25, 2013 at 5:15 PM · No Comments

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Having a cleaning job and being regularly exposed to cleaning products significantly increase a person's risk for asthma, suggest results from a long-term UK study.

Overall, 18 professions were significantly associated with an increased risk for adult-onset asthma. Of these, four involved different forms of cleaning and three - cooks; waiters, waitresses, or bartenders; and home-based personal care workers - were likely to involve substantial use of cleaning products.

"Occupational asthma is widely under-recognised by employers, employees and healthcare professionals," said lead study author Rebecca Elisabeth Ghosh (Imperial College London) in a press statement.

"Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable disease would be a major step in reducing its incidence."

As reported in Thorax, Ghosh and team analyzed the occupational histories and adult asthma status of 9488 individuals from the 1958 birth cohort of the National Child Development Study.

Overall, 7406 individuals had no history of childhood asthma or wheezy bronchitis. Of these, 639 (9%) had developed asthma by the age of 42 years.

Ghosh et al found that 18 occupations were associated with a significantly increased risk for adult-onset asthma. Farmers had the highest risk, at an odds ratio (OR) of 4.26 after adjustment for gender, smoking, father's social class at birth, region and hayfever, followed by aircraft engine mechanics and fitters, compositors/typesetters, doorkeepers/watchpersons, and hand-launderers and pressers, at respective ORs of 3.81, 3.04, 2.59, and 2.26, compared with other occupations.

Adult-onset asthma in the cohort was significantly associated with exposure to five of the 18 Asthma Specific Job Exposure Matrix (ASJEM) agents. Other than cleaning products, these included flour, enzymes, metal and metal fumes, and textile production chemicals.

The researchers estimate from their results that 16% of adult-onset asthma in people born in the 1950's in the UK is likely to be due to occupational exposure.

"The findings of this study are the first of their kind in the UK and provide valuable information for those concerned with reducing the incidence of asthma in adult life," write the authors.

Discussing the findings with the press, Malayka Rahman (Asthma UK), who was not involved in the research, commented: "This research has highlighted a new group of people, specifically those working in occupations related to cleaning, such as cleaners or home-based personal care workers, who may have developed adult-onset asthma due to exposure to chemicals they work with on a daily basis."

She added: "We advise anyone who works in the industries highlighted in this study and who have experienced breathing problems to discuss this with their [General Practitioner], and we urge healthcare professionals to make sure they consider possible occupational causes in adult onset asthma and tailor their advice to people with asthma accordingly."

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