Spray Cleaners May Up Asthma Risk

Study Sees Asthma Link for Home Users of Chemical Cleaning Sprays

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 12, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 12, 2007 -- Using spray home cleaning products, even as little as once a week, may increase an adult's risk for developing asthma symptoms, a new study shows.

Frequent use of aerosolized chemical cleaners has previously been linked to asthma in cleaning professionals. But the new study is the first to examine the impact of exposure to spray cleaners on home users.

Researchers concluded that use of spray household cleaners may be an important contributor to asthma in adults.

The risk of developing asthma increased with the frequency of use and the number of different products used, but on average regular use of spray cleaners and air fresheners was found to be associated with a 30% to 50% increase in asthma risk.

Researcher Jan-Paul Zock, PhD, says this finding means that as many as one in seven asthma cases in adults may be caused by the use of spray cleaners.

"These findings must be confirmed, but it is clear that people need to use caution when they use these products," he says.

Cleaners and Asthma

Zock and colleagues used data from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, one of the largest population-based studies of airway diseases ever conducted.

The study included more than 3,500 adults across 22 centers located in 10 European countries who reported doing the bulk of cleaning in their homes.

None of the participants -- two-thirds of whom were women -- had asthma when they entered the study, but roughly 6% had developed asthma symptoms after an average follow-up of nine years.

The subjects were asked at follow-up interviews how often they used 15 types of cleaning products.

The use of cleaning sprays at least once a week was associated with a roughly 50% increase in asthma symptoms or use of asthma medication and a roughly 40% increase in wheezing.

Use of spray cleaners and air fresheners at least four days a week was associated with a doubling of the risk of physician-diagnosed asthma.

The use of non-aerosolized cleaning products and air fresheners was not linked to a rise in asthma risk.

The study is published in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

No Proof of Cause and Effect

The findings come as no surprise to environmental and occupational medicine specialist Kenneth D. Rosenman, MD, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

He points out that at least six previous population-based studies, as well as numerous case reports, have found an increase in asthma and respiratory illness among cleaning professionals.

"The unique thing about this study is that it expands the population at risk for asthma from exposure to these products," he tells WebMD. "We have known that workplace exposure can cause asthma. Now we know that anyone who uses these products may be at risk."

But a spokesman for a trade group representing manufacturers of commercial cleaning products says population studies like that of Zock and colleagues often suggest cause and effect relationships that don't exist.

"By its very nature, the cleaning process brings people into contact with known asthma causes and triggers, i.e. the biological contaminants (mold, insect parts and excrement, animal dander, etc.)," Bill Lafield of the Consumer Specialty Products Association tells WebMD. "Higher exposure to these contaminants could result in higher than normal occurrences of asthma."

Zock says people can minimize potential risks by using non-aerosolized cleaning products, by limiting their use of products containing bleach and ammonia, and by never mixing cleaners that contain the two chemicals.

In his editorial, Rosenman called on federal regulators to test the chemicals used in cleaning products for their potential to cause asthma.

The lack of such oversight has led to at least one recall of a carpet powder and spray specifically marketed to people with asthma, according to Rosenman.

"It turned out that this product caused asthma," he says.

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SOURCES: Zock, J.P. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, October 2007; vol 176: pp 735-741. Jan-Paul Zock, PhD, Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, Municipal Institute of Medical Research, Barcelona, Spain. Kenneth D. Rosenman, MD, professor of medicine; chief, division of occupational and environmental medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. Bill Lafield, vice president, state affairs and communications, Consumer Specialty Products Association.

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