Hairdressers at Greater Risk of Developing Asthma

This study attempted to look at the risk and prevalence of asthma among hairdressers who worked at women’s salons. The results showed that of the surveyed 1334 hairdressers, 9.5 percent had asthma. Of these, occupation-related asthma was seen in 5.4 percent to 7.8 percent. It was noted that there was an increased risk of runny nose and/or skin allergies, along with excessive symptoms while at work or on weekends, that raised the chance of getting asthma. The authors concluded that “hairdressing employment can induce asthma.”

Asthma is one of the most common allergy-related lung diseases. Many known pollutants and chemicals cause a predisposition to asthma. Around 10 to 25 percent of adult asthmatics suffer due to exposure to certain culprit chemicals at their workplace, causing occupational asthma. Those working with chemicals like asbestos, isocyanates and persulfate are at risk. Hairdressers are exposed to persulfate, but the exact prevalence of asthma in this population is unknown. While one study has shown occupational asthma prevalence to be 81 per 1 million exposed hairdressers annually, another study in Sweden showed 3.9 per 1000 people exposed annually. This study attempted to find the exact prevalence of occupational asthma among hairdressers exposed to persulfate.


  • For the study, a total of 1334 hairdressers were interviewed over the telephone. They all worked at various women’s hair salons across Barcelona.
  • They were asked about their symptoms pertaining to the respiratory system like wheezing, breathlessness, runny nose, etc. If the answer to any question in this interview was affirmative, the participant was referred to the second stage.
  • In the second stage, the participants (251 hairdressers) were assessed to see if they actually had occupational asthma. Occupational asthma was defined by symptoms like itching and/or runny nose, regular symptoms, losing voice, wheezing and coughing up spit. Further, the sufferers’ symptoms during weekends and vacations were also noted.

Key findings

  • Results showed that 9.5 percent of the hairdressers surveyed had asthma and answered positively to one of the five questions in stage 1. A total of 944 hairdressers had no respiratory problems. The rest had runny noses, bronchitis or other complaints.
  • In the second stage of the study, 72 individuals were diagnosed with possible occupational asthma. The prevalence of occupational asthma among hairdressers was 5.4 to 7.8 percent, using the criteria defined in this study. Using the usual conventional criteria, the prevalence was 4.6 to 6.7 percent.
  • The risk of occupational asthma was nearly eight times higher in hairdressers who had a runny nose or skin allergies. The risk was raised by nearly three times when the participants had increased symptoms during work and a continuance of symptoms on weekends.

Next steps/shortcomings
This study included hairdressers only at women’s salons due to the fact that, in Spain, many more women than men get their hair dyed or bleached. This resulted in the study sample being mostly female because most of the hairdressers were women. The authors feel that this might not have affected the results, since sex has not been shown to be a risk factor for occupational asthma in previous studies. The study did not include hairdressers who may have been sick and may have chosen not to work with the harmful chemicals due to the exacerbation of their symptoms. This could have skewed the results.

This study looked at the prevalence of occupational asthma among hairdressers in women’s salons. It showed that a repeatedly runny nose, allergic skin manifestations and exacerbations of asthma-related symptoms during exposure and on weekends raised the risk of getting occupational asthma. Hairdressers who had symptoms before starting their work accounted for 21.6 percent of the group without occupational asthma and 25 percent in the group with occupational asthma. This could imply that occupational asthma in these participants is caused by a derangement of immunity that also leads to other allergic symptoms (such as runny nose and skin allergies). The authors conclude that exposure to chemicals like persulfate in the hairdressing occupation raises the risk of developing occupational asthma.

For More Information:
Prevalence of Possible Occupational Asthma in Hairdressers Working in Hair Salons for Women
Publication Journal: International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, February 2011
By M. Espuga; X. Muñoz
From the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain and CIBER Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES), Barcelona, Spain

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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