Stewart WhiteA recent study of more than 7,000 people suggested that exposure to cleaning chemicals is a major factor that contributes to the one in six cases of adult onset asthma among those living in the UK who are in their mid-50’s. 

The study also identified a number of job that were noted to be high risk in the development of this condition, four of which involved cleaning.  Among them were general cleaners, office cleaners, domestic helpers and care workers all exposed to chemicals that caused the onset of this condition as well as farmers, aircraft mechanics, typesetters, hairdressers and laundry workers who are exposed to various chemicals.

However, experts were quick to point out that the problem is more to do with the working environment rather than the occupation. A significant number of occupational agents have been linked to asthma including things like flour and grain as well as cleaning detergents. When the fine particles from those materials are inhaled into the airways, they cause an irritation. 

From my experience of working for hundreds of lung disease clients who were members of the National Union of Mineworkers, Asthma was one of the most over-diagnosed conditions to be found in their medical records.  It appeared to be the case, and indeed, back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, if you presented to your GP with trouble breathing, you would be likely to be diagnosed with asthma and sent away with an inhaler. 

Employees are protected by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations which protects them insofar as their employers are required to control exposures to hazardous substances and report any cases of occupational asthma.  Unfortunately, the condition is under recognised by employers and employees and also health care professionals it is my view that awareness of this condition should be raised because this is a disease which is entirely preventable and publicity would be a step in the direction of reducing its occurrence. 

As somebody who used to clean offices with my mother, I doubt there would have been much risk of me being exposed to these chemicals by merely emptying a few buckets and spinning incessantly on the swivel chairs!