In our Singapore cohort, we found an association between chemical solvent exposure and non-chronic cough or phlegm, chronic dry cough and adult-onset asthma. We did not ask about the type of solvent used; therefore we are limited in our ability to identify the potential etiologic agents.
However, chemical solvents are known respiratory irritants affecting the mucosa. Chemical solvents have a wide variety of industrial applications, including the manufacture of paints, inks, cleaning products, adhesive and petrochemicals.
Of note, we found that individuals having an occupation as a janitor or cleaner had higher odds of adult-onset asthma compared to those without that job history. A modest increased risk from working as a janitor or cleaner is supported in other population-based studies from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) study, the US and Finland.
While asthma was not related to occupation as a cleaner in a community-based study involving seven French cities, exposure to industrial cleaning agents was. Our results add to the growing body of evidence for a role of cleaning agents in asthma.