High exposure to everyday cleaning products could cause asthma
Experts behind the study, which looked at more than 7,000 families and is published in the European Respiratory Journal, are uncertain about which chemicals are to blame, although previous research suggests fumes called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, could be responsible.
He said small children coming from cleaner homes might be more likely to develop asthma.
"We think that is perhaps due to irritant effects of the chemicals on the child after birth, which may cause inflammation of the airways leading to development of asthma," he said.
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The investigators used baseline data from the first phase of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS I), one of the world's largest epidemiologic studies of airway disease, and interviews conducted in the follow-up phase, ECRHS II. Altogether, the study included more than 3,500 subjects across 22 centers in 10 European countries. Subjects were assessed for current asthma, current wheeze, physician-diagnosed asthma and allergy at follow-up, which took place an average of nine years after their first assessment. They were also asked to report the number of times per week they used cleaning products.
The risk of developing asthma increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used, but on average was about thirty to fifty percent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others. The researchers found that cleaning sprays, especially air fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass-cleaners, had a particularly strong effect.
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CDC surveys have detected a dramatic increase in childhood asthma across the country in the span of just a few decades. At present, nearly 1 in 10 children (9.3 percent) has asthma in the U.S. (CDC 2008), up from 7.5 percent in 1996, and just 3.6 percent in 1980 (CDC 2006). In California, one in six children will develop asthma at some point during childhood or adolescence (Babey 2006). Childhood asthma is more common among African-American, Latino, and low income communities (CDC 2006; Babey 2007; Meng 2007). Hospitalization rates for asthma are at historically high levels, mirroring the documented trends in asthma prevalence (CDC 2006).
Many ingredients in conventional cleaning supplies cause asthma in previously healthy people, according to the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC), the leading international body concerned with the link between chemical exposures and asthma.
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Some people who work as professional cleaners have developed occupational asthma by becoming sensitized to specialised ingredients used in products for cleaning hospitals etc. Many of these ingredients have now been superseded or exposure has been controlled such that risks are minimised or avoided. Such potentially sensitizing ingredients are not used in products you buy to clean your home. It's also clear that some cleaners who develop occupational asthma, maybe the majority, have in fact become sensitized to substances in the place they are cleaning, including mould, rather than to anything in a product.
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The annual direct medical cost of asthma in both children and adults is estimated at $37 billion nationwide (Kamble 2009). The indirect costs for an individual child are difficult to quantify, but encompass impacts on a child's education and well-being from asthma caused or triggered by cleaning products. And asthma is just one of many long-term health consequences associated with cleaning product chemicals.
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