Scrubbing the kitchen floor or doing other cleaning chores around the home may trigger a spike in breathing problems in women with asthma, Ohio-based doctors warn in a report published this month.

"We certainly know that cleaning as an occupation and cleaning agent exposures are major risks for asthma and asthma exacerbations," Dr. Jonathan A. Bernstein, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, told Reuters Health. "So we wanted to see what was going on in the general population (because) obviously people clean their homes."

In a 12-week study, Bernstein and colleagues compared the health effects of household cleaning among 25 asthmatic and 19 non-asthmatic women who reported that they are the primary cleaners in their homes.

After cleaning, the researchers observed a statistically significant increase in the number of respiratory symptoms in asthmatic women compared with non-asthmatic women, "which indicates that these cleaning activities were aggravating their symptoms," Bernstein said. "It was a pretty significant finding," he added.

In fact, according to the researchers, all of the women in the study - both asthmatic and non-asthmatic women - exhibited respiratory symptoms in response to exposure to cleaning agents rated as mild in toxicity. This finding, they say, points to a subtle but potentially important adverse health effect of long-term low-level exposure to these chemicals.

Bernstein and colleagues think doctors should caution women with asthma about the potential respiratory health effects of cleaning activities and exposure to cleaning agents.

"Whether or not these cleaning activities will put women at risk for subsequently developing asthma — that is something that has certainly been talked about but needs to be looked at in larger studies prospectively," Bernstein told Reuters Health.