Objectives: Cleaning workers have an increased risk of asthma but the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. We studied functional and biological characteristics in asthmatic cleaners and compared these to healthy cleaners.
Methods: Forty-two cleaners with a history of asthma and/or recent respiratory symptoms and 53 symptom-free controls were identified. Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) was measured and forced spirometry with reversibility testing was performed. Total IgE, pulmonary surfactant protein D and the 16 kDa Clara Cell secretory protein were measured in blood serum. Interleukins and other cytokines, growth factors, cys-leukotrienes and 8-isoprostane were measured in exhaled breath condensate. Information on occupational and domestic use of cleaning products was obtained in an interview. Associations between asthma status, specific characteristics and the use of cleaning products were evaluated using multivariable linear and logistic regression analyses.
Results: Asthma was associated with an 8% (95% confidence interval (CI) 1-15%) lower postbronchodilator FEV1, a higher prevalence of atopy (42% vs. 10%) and a 2.9 (CI 1.5-5.6) times higher level of total IgE. Asthma status was not associated with the other respiratory biomarkers. Most irritant products and sprays were more often used by asthmatic cleaners. The use of multiuse products, glass cleaners and polishes at work was associated with higher FeNO, particularly in controls.
Conclusions: Asthma in cleaning workers is characterised by non-reversible lung function decrement and increased total IgE. Oxidative stress, altered lung permeability and eosinophilic inflammation are unlikely to play an important underlying role, although the latter may be affected by certain irritant cleaning exposures.
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