Exposure to hospital disinfectants have been linked to lung disease among nurses, according to a new study.
Researchers tracked the health of more than 73,000 female nurses from 2009 to 2015 and found occupational exposure to several commonly-used cleaning products including bleach, hydrogen peroxide and alcohol was associated with a 25% to 38% higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The findings, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, suggest weekly use of chemical disinfectants could put female nurses at risk of developing respiratory issues in the long-term.
"Our findings provide further evidence of an adverse association between disinfectants and cleaning products and respiratory health," the study concluded. "Our additional findings of an association with COPD incidence urges the need for the development of exposure-reduction strategies that remain compatible with infection control in healthcare settings."
The study was the largest to date examining the potential health risks of occupational exposures among female nurses. Though a causal link has yet to be identified, previous studies have estimated as many as 20% of all COPD cases could be attributed to work-related exposures.
But the study did suggest hospitals should not wait to look into ways of reducing the risk posed by cleaning chemicals by looking into possibly using safer alternatives for disinfecting.
"Clinicians should be aware of this new risk factor and systematically look for sources of exposure to cleaning products and disinfectants in addition to other occupational exposures in patients with COPD," the study concluded.
Chronic lower respiratory diseases, which includes COPD and asthma, are the fourth leading causes of mortality in the U.S. and are responsible for more than 160,000 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rates of COPD have been increasing among women over the last two decades, with more than 7 million women estimated to be living with the disease in the U.S. Millions more go undiagnosed, according to the American Lung Association.
Since 2000, more women than men have died from COPD, which experts have said is partly due to both biological differences that may make women more vulnerable than men to risk factors such as cigarette smoke.
COPD has for years been under-diagnosed and under-treated in women for years because the disease has been traditionally associated with male smokers.