Study Finds COPD Risk in Use of Cleaning Materials

Source: Axel Bueckert - 123RF

A recent study led by researchers from France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research has found that frequent use of disinfectants, especially among nurses, increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to Safety + Health, the study involved more than 73,000 U.S. women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II – beginning in 1989 – and follow-up questionnaires between 2009 and 2015. The nurses had no previous history of COPD, which can cause long-term disability and early death.

Weekly disinfectant use to clean surfaces and medical instruments with products such as bleach, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide was associated with a 25% to 38% elevated risk of COPD – independent of asthma and smoking, according to the study abstract.

Exposure to cleaning products and disinfectants is common at work and at home and remains more frequent among women. Exposure levels are particularly high in the health care industry, one of the largest employment sectors in the United States and Europe.

Previous studies have shown an increased risk of COPD among workers in other professions in which disinfectants and cleaning products are used regularly, so the risk is likely not restricted to nurses.

According to the CDC, chronic lower respiratory disease, mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is the fourth leading cause of death in the US. While tobacco smoke is the primary cause, 1 in 4 people with COPD has never smoked.

Air pollutants at home (secondhand smoke), at work (fumes), and genetics can also cause COPD.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronic or smoker’s cough;
  • Chronic phlegm production;
  • Shortness of breath; and
  • Wheezing.

Early detection and treatment may change its course. A breathing test can measure lung function and detect COPD in those at risk. Treatment requires a careful and thorough doctor’s evaluation, avoiding tobacco smoke, and removing air pollutants from the home and at work.

Symptoms may be treated with medication. A doctor may also consider pulmonary rehabilitation, a personalized treatment program that teaches you how to manage your COPD symptoms to improve quality of life.

The study concluded that potential safer alternatives, including emerging nonchemical technologies for disinfection (eg, steam, UV light) or green cleaning, should be considered.