Work environment linked to one in six cases of adult asthma, study finds

Barista at workConditions in people’s work environments – including exposure to cleaning products – are linked to one in six cases of adult asthma, a new study has found.

The research team, led by academics at Imperial College London, analysed data on almost 7,500 members of the 1958 National Child Development Study. They found that eight per cent had been exposed to high-risk agents associated with asthma. These included flour, enzymes and cleaning disinfectant products. Twenty-eight per cent had been exposed to low-risk agents, and 34 per cent had been exposed to both. One in four cohort members had never been exposed to any of the agents at work.

Exposure to high- and low-risk agents was found to increase the likelihood of developing asthma by 53 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

Researchers identified 18 occupations linked to adult asthma. At the top of the list were farmers, who were four times more likely to develop asthma than those who were never exposed to any risk agents. Printing workers were three times as likely to develop the condition, and hairdressers twice as likely. Other ‘at risk’ were cleaners, aircraft mechanics, domestic helpers, care workers, and laundry workers.

Four of the 18 occupations were cleaning jobs and three were likely to involve cleaning agents. Lead author Dr Rebecca Ghosh said cleaning products were starting to be recognised as a potential cause of asthma.

“Occupational asthma is widely under-recognised by employers, employees and healthcare professionals. Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable disease would be a major step in reducing its incidence,” Dr Ghosh said.

Coverage of this research

BBC: ‘Cleaning products “linked to adult asthma”

Medical Express: ‘Workplace link to one in six cases of adult asthma among UK baby boomers

NHS Choices: ‘Cleaning jobs linked to adult asthma