It’s obvious that breathing in dirt and dust isn’t great for your health, but according to the magazine Safety + Health, a new study suggests that exposure to textile dust could have especially detrimental consequences.
The study was conducted by Malaysia’s Allergy and Immunology Research Center at the Institute for Medical Research. Researchers analyzed 910 Malaysian women who had been previously diagnosed with early-stage rheumatoid arthritis and 910 women around the same age who were not.
Participants were asked if they worked in the textile industry and had ever been exposed to chemicals and silica dust, and they were then checked for ACPA (rheumatoid arthritis antibodies).
Overall, 4.5% of the women with rheumatoid arthritis were also exposed to textile dust at work compared to just 1.7% of the diagnosed women without the disease. According to their results, women exposed to textile dust were three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who did not work in such an industry.
The study is, however, just evidence of correlation, not necessarily causation, as the researchers themselves readily acknowledged.
“From a public health perspective, our results imply that efforts should be considered to reduce the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing occupational exposure to textile dust,” researchers wrote in the study.
Exposure to textile dust was also connected to more than double the risk of having ACPA in general. Textile dust is particularly harmful to the lungs because of the size and shape, which allows it to get into them and cause inflammation; in order to combat it, industrial facilities often use central vacuum systems and air filters to prevent workers from breathing in these substances.
The study only used women as subjects for a couple of reasons. First, they are simply the predominant workers in the textile industry. Secondly, smoking is inherently more common in men and is a big factor in potential risk of rheumatoid arthritis.