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Work-Related Asthma from Cleaning Agents versus other Agents

The workplace can trigger or induce asthma through a variety of different types of occupational exposures. Cleaning agents have been commonly implicated as causative or triggering factors in work-related asthma (WRA), mainly from epidemiologic studies. The purpose of this study is to provide a comparison between socio-demographic and clinical features in patients exposed to cleaning and non-cleaning products.

The data used for analysis came from a patient database containing 208 patients with probably WRA. They had all been assessed by the senior responsible author in this study (a respiratory physician) after being referred to the asthma and airway centre of a tertiary centre hospital in Toronto, Canada from 2000 to 2015. The database included gender, industry category, work status, smoking status, pulmonary function , Ontario workplace safety insurance board (WSIB) compensation claim submitted, WRA caused by precipitating event, improvement when removed from work exposure, airflow obstruction at baseline and significant bronchodilator response  The patients were distinguished into two different groups. The ‘cleaning group’ consisted of patients whose reported exposure was coded cleaning products, including cleaning of machinery and equipment. The ‘non-cleaning’ group was defined as the remaining patients with WRA whose reported exposure did not include cleaning-related products.

The results identified multiple cleaning products that are potential respiratory irritants and sensitizers. The most frequent exposures were surfactants, alcohols, disinfectants and acids. In addition, the exposures were commonly mixed, and often included additional potential sensitizers or irritants.

In conclusion, WRA is known to be a debilitating but preventable disease.  By reducing exposure to cleaning products that impact asthma, it may lead to a higher proportion of workers being able to continue their work, improving their quality of life and lowering socio-economic burden. A focus on prevention has been advised for these workers as for other groups at increased risk and may result in less WRA.

For more resources and information that support your understanding of work related asthma check out the Lung Ontario.

Reference: Li, R. W. H., Lipszyc, J. C., Prasad, S., & Tarlo, S. M. (2018). Work-related asthma from cleaning agents versus other agents. Occupational Medicine, 68(9), 587–592.