The Everyday Activity That Could be Damaging Your Lungs

It's easy to take breathing for granted, but keeping our lungs in top condition is vital to our health.

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We often don't consider the important role our lungs play in keeping us strong and well. Because breathing comes naturally to us and taking place constantly, without conscious thought, it's easy to take our very own set of bellows for granted. But the truth is that our lungs, like the rest of our body, require care and attention in order to do their job properly.

It's common knowledge that things like smoking and pollution can have negative effects on our ability to breath , but new research released as part of the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign has found that the everyday task of cleaning can have a direct impact on a person's lung function.

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The study, which will be presented at the European Respiratory Society's International Congress in London in September, found that female cleaners had an accelerated decline (17%) in lung function as a direct result of their jobs. 

Additionally, it concluded that those who engaged in cleaning at home also faced an increased risk – showing a 14% greater decrease in lung function over the course of 20 years.Scientists looked at a sample of over 5,000 individuals from The European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECHRS) over a 20-year period to produce the survey, which is the first of its kind to look at the long-term consequences of exposure to cleaning agents.

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Professor Jørgen Vestbo, President of ERS and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, said, 'Cleaning products can put people's health at risk. So people should be aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate against them – if people have genuine concerns they should ensure that they discuss any symptoms and the possible link with their workplace with their doctor.'

Risky chemicals include Benzalkonium chloride – a type of organic salt called a quaternary ammonium compound. Typically used as a disinfectant in household cleaners for floors and hard services, The Cosmetic Safety Database states that evidence suggests Benzalkonium chloride to be an immune, skin and respiratory toxicant. 

Other potentially hazardous cleaning agents include any chlorine-based agents (aka sodium hypochlorite – used as the active ingredient in bleach) some 'scents' including limonene, which gives some products their 'citrus' smell, and Isothiazolinone, which is used in some washing up liquids and laundry washing liquids.What can you do?You may be sad to hear that this isn't an excuse to throw your marigolds away, because there are things you can do to ensure that your lungs are kept safe. The Healthy Lungs for Life campaign recommends you:

  • Check the ingredients and avoid the aforementioned chemicals. Between 1.5 million and 2 million deaths a year could be linked to indoor air pollution, so it's essential that you use products that are safe.
  • Follow label instructions about the safe use of chemicals.
  • Use wipes not sprays so there are less airborne particles to breathe in. The risk of developing asthma is thought to increase by 1.2-2.9 timeswith exposure to all volatile organic compounds generated from using chemicals such as disinfectants, cosmetics and air fresheners.
  • Open doors and windows during and after cleaning to ensure good ventilation. Some pollutants may be 2-5 times more concentrated inside rather than outside buildings, so ensuring you have a good airflow through your house is key.

If you have any concerns about the impact of chemicals in the home on your lungs, go to your doctor and get your lungs tested.

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