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The Link Between Cleaning Chemicals & Asthma in Healthcare Professionals

Personal Injury Solicitor Tracey Graham discusses the association between cleaning-related chemicals and Asthma in healthcare professionals.

In January 2012, Occupational and Environmental Medicine published an article concluding that healthcare professionals are at risk of developing work related Asthma from exposure to cleaning substances. Work related asthma remains an important public health problem affecting one quarter of adults with asthma. Although cleaning substances are routinely used in hospitals, few studies have addressed their potential adverse respiratory health effects on those working within healthcare. The article reported on a study which attempted to identify the relationship between work related exposure and the development of work related asthma. 

5,600 Healthcare professionals were surveyed, of which 3,659 responded to a questionnaire about their occupation, asthma diagnosis, variability of symptoms at and away from work, and exposure to individual cleaning substances. 

The study looked at 4 mutually exclusively categories of asthma: work related asthma symptoms, work exacerbated asthma, occupational asthma and none (no symptoms). It was found that the odds of work related asthma symptoms and work exacerbated asthma increased in a dose dependant manner for exposure in the longest job to cleaning agents and disinfectants/sterilants respectively. The odds of work related asthmas were significantly elevated for bleach cleaners/abrasives, toilet cleaners, detergents and ammonia as well as glutaraldehyde and chloramines. Exposure to chloramines was significantly associated with an almost five fold elevated odds of occupational asthma. 

There have been very many studies carried out and a particular team based in the US has also carried out an earlier analysis. This latest analysis differed from the earlier version in two important aspects: Firstly, the team exclusively focused on exposure to cleaning related substances relating to cleaning agents and disinfectants and secondly, they constructed a working definition of asthma in the workplace with regard to four mutually exclusive categories being those referred to above. 

This particular study added the following in terms of additional information gathered: 

Approximately one quarter of all cases of adult asthma in the US & Europe are work related.

Women make up almost half of the US work force and greatly outnumber men in health related occupations, placing them at higher risk of exposure to cleaning related substances. Prevalence’s of work related asthma symptoms, work exacerbated asthma and occupational asthma were higher among female healthcare professionals.

Work place exposures to cleaning related chemicals were associated with the development of work related asthma symptoms, work exacerbated asthma and/or occupational asthma among healthcare professionals.

Tracey Graham is a Personal Injury Solicitor specialising in industrial disease claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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