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Long-Term Bleach Exposure May Increase Risk of COPD: Study

Frequent use of cleaning disinfectants, such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide, may increase an individual’s risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to the findings of a new study. 

Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research found that weekly use of chemicals like bleach and other strong disinfectants may increase the COPD risk by nearly one-third.

The study was presented last week at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy. Researchers analyzed data from more than 55,000 working nurses in the United States, who did not have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2009, at the beginning of the study.

The nurses were then followed for 8 years, and researchers indicate that 663 nurses were diagnosed with COPD during that time. As a result, researchers conclude that regular use of bleach and other disinfectants was linked to a higher risk of lung diseases among the nurses who used the products routinely.

Researchers questioned the nurses about their use of disinfectants, identifying exposure to products like glutaraldehyde, a strong disinfectant used to sterilize medical instruments, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, used to disinfect surfaces, like floors and furniture.

The findings indicated weekly exposure to these disinfectants was enough to increase their risk of having COPD by 22%, compared to the nurses who did not use the disinfectants weekly. Nearly 40% of nurses involved in the national study used the disinfectants weekly.

A high level of use, more than once a week, was associated with a 24% increased risk. In some cases, the risk of COPD increased to 32% among the nurses who used the chemicals more often.

Researchers indicated they took into account other factors that may contribute to COPD, such as smoking, age, body mass index, and ethnicity. The findings are considered preliminary until they have been published in a peer reviewed journal.

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes the airflow from the lungs to become blocked. It is also an umbrella term for several chronic lung conditions, such as bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD often experience persistent cough, mucus, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

Smokers and those exposed to frequent secondhand smoke have a high risk of developing COPD. Other factors that irritate the airways, like air pollution and harsh chemicals, can irritate the lungs and heighten the symptoms of COPD. Those with COPD also face an increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and other diseases.

Prior studies have indicated a link between disinfectants and breathing problems, such as asthma, among health care workers.

Authors of the new study warn the findings don’t prove a cause and effect between disinfectants, like bleach, and COPD. They indicated that more research is needed to find such a connection.

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