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Asthma in domestic cleaners

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Recent studies have suggested that cleaners, especially domestic cleaners, may have an increased risk of asthma. A study in Barcelona, Spain has confirmed this increase in risk.

In a population thought to have a high number of domestic cleaners a previously validated questionnaire was sent to 5120 women aged 30–65 and with less than eight years’ education. Telephone follow up was employed as necessary. Satisfactory replies were received from 4521 women of whom half (2259) had worked as cleaners at some time and 593 (13%) were currently working as domestic cleaners. Most of the women (74%) had never smoked. Relative to women who had never worked in cleaning, women who had ever worked in cleaning had significant increases in wheezing with breathlessness (odds ratio (OR) 1.53), ever asthma (1.44), current asthma (1.73), chronic bronchitis (1.52), and ever rhinitis (1.2). The risks were increased for current cleaners but the increases were significant only for wheezing with breathlessness, current asthma, and chronic bronchitis in domestic, but not non-domestic, cleaners. The highest risks were in former domestic cleaners (OR for current asthma 2.09) but few former cleaners (1.3%) claimed to have quit the job because of respiratory symptoms. In general neither current nor previous non-domestic cleaning was significantly associated with asthma. Women who worked simultaneously as domestic and non-domestic cleaners had a higher risk of asthma (OR 1.79) than women who did only domestic cleaning. Among current non-domestic cleaners the asthma risk was increased for hospital or health centre cleaners but not for office, hotel, residence, laboratory, or kitchen cleaners. About a quarter of the asthma cases in this study population could be attributed to domestic cleaning work.

Domestic cleaning could have an important effect on public health, especially if the increased risks were found to apply to household members doing cleaning as well as paid cleaners. The precise causes of the increased asthma risk in domestic cleaners are unknown.

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