Bleaching agents widely used in hair salons put hair stylists at risk of asthma and inflammation of the eyes, nose and throat, researchers report in the medical journal Chest.
"In the last years I have seen several cases of occupational asthma in hairdressers, and this observation has prompted me to start a specific study in this category of workers," Dr. Gianna Moscato, Head of the Allergy and Immunology Unit at the Scientific Institute of Pavia in Italy told Reuters Health.
Between 1996 and 2004, Moscato and her colleagues enrolled 47 hairdressers who had been exposed to bleaching agents for an average of about 7 years, and who had come to their institute with complaints of respiratory and skin problems. The researchers performed allergy tests and studied lung function in these patients.
They found that more than half of the patients (about 51 percent) had occupational asthma and that in 87.5 percent of all asthma patients the condition was due to persulfate salts, a type of chemical widely used as a bleaching agent. Of the remaining patients diagnosed with asthma, the condition was associated with exposure to permanent hair dyes in about 8 percent and to latex in about 4 percent.
In addition, more than half of the patients diagnosed with asthma (about 54 percent) were also diagnosed with occupational rhinitis — inflammation of the eyes, nose and throat — that was due to persulfate salts in 84.5 percent of the cases. Finally, about 36 percent of all hairdressers seen at the institute were diagnosed with occupational dermatitis.
"We have described the largest population of hairdressers with documented occupational asthma and rhinitis published to date," Moscato said. "The agents most frequently involved are persulfates salts, and that besides the well described cutaneous occupational risk, these workers are also at high risk to develop occupational asthma."
Moscato and her colleagues are now working to promote preventive programs for hairdressers that will include environmental measures and specific respiratory surveillance programs.