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Last updated January 1, 2014

Housework Could Be Making Women Sick

Common cleaners can lead to asthma, 12/13/2002

CHICAGO -- The number of asthma cases among women in the United States doubled over the past 15 years, and that trend is expected to continue unless something is done to reverse it. Some doctors are focusing on one of the most likely causes of many cases of female asthma: housework.

Pam Winnefield suffers from asthma, and her doctor diagnosed household cleaners as a major cause. He said the diagnosis could apply to many other women with asthma.

"Women still do the primary care-giving and cleaning of the household," said Dr. Jill Ohar, an asthma specialist. "(They) are exposed to house dust mites more (and) exposed to chemical irritants in the form of cleaning solvents more than men."

Health officials used to blame some female asthma on hormones, as they sought to explain the rise in cases.

"The rates have gone up 105 percent for females over the past 15 years or so, compared to about a 41 percent increase in men," said Dr. Stephen Redd, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women's asthma is more severe than men's, according to statistics. The death rate is higher, and women are hospitalized more. Spring cleaning this year sent Gerry Rivers to the emergency room.

"I have been in intensive care units," Rivers said. "I've almost had to have a breathing tube in."

Rivers said the spring attack was triggered by her household cleaners.

"It was from some all-purpose cleaners and some floor cleaners," Rivers said. "I ended up coughing. It progressed to chest tightness."

Ohar said you can tell which cleaners are the worse culprits by their smell.

"Ammonia-containing commpounds, chlorine-containing compounds," Ohar said. "All of those have that kind of noxious smell. When you put your nose to the bottle and -- you know them when you see them."

The key for using any product is proper ventilation and common sense. Rivers said she now asks for help with vacuuming, avoids aerosols and gets back to basics.

"What my mom and grandma used, using vinegar or using baking soda," Rivers said.

Regardless of the trigger, asthma can be dangerous.

"It's very scary," Winnefeld said. "It's even more scary now that I'm a mom."




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