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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Hairdressers hacking coughs not linked to work

WELLINGTON - A study of 100 hairdressers in Wellington has failed to show any direct links between respiratory diseases and the use of hairsprays, setting agents and hair colouring chemicals.

The finding is in contrast to studies in the United States and Finland, which both found significantly elevated risks of chronic bronchitis and asthma in hairdressers, even after the figures have been adjusted for the above-average smoking rates within the industry. Researcher Tania Slater, of MasseyĂs Centre for Public Health Research, says the results from the Capital are puzzling.

Although there were elevated odds for asthma symptoms for Wellington hairdressers ­ in comparison to a control group of office and shop workers ­ those differences disappeared when the data were adjusted for age, gender and ­ most importantly - the above average smoking rate.

Work-related wheezing and tightness of the chest, being woken by shortness of breath and coughing were also more common among hairdressers in the Capital. Those differences disappeared in the adjusted data.

Pulmonary function testing at the start of the working day showed hairdressers had a œsignificantly lower"baseline lung function than those in the control group. Lung function declined in proportion to the number of years spent in the industry. Again, both these sets of differences disappeared in the adjusted figures.

œOne theory is that weĂre doing something different in our hairdressing salons in New Zealand, in comparison to those salons studied overseas,"says Ms Slater.

œOther reasons might be that our study group ­ 100 workers in 26 salons ­ was too small to reveal any underlying trends, or that unhealthy workers had left the industry, and were not present for the tests."

Ms Slater says the significantly lower mean baseline lung function of hairdressers requires further study. More investigation is needed on hairdressersĂ exposure to chemicals. Respiratory symptoms and pulmonary function measurements of young hairdressing apprentices should be monitored over time.

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