Common cleaning products can damage your lungs

It's the kind of damage in the lungs that we normally see in people with a longtime cigarette habit.

Except you can have it in your own lungs... right now... even if you've never taken a puff or lived with a smoker!

Many common cleaning chemicals -- including the stuff you use in your kitchen and bathroom -- can cause dangerous fumes.

As you clean, you inhale those fumes. And once they're inside your lungs, they can do serious damage.

A new study finds that women who routinely clean up around the house have the same kind of damage seen in smokers.

Not just "light smokers," either (as if there is such a thing!).

The loss of lung capacity is similar to what's often seen in folks who've had a longtime pack-a-day habit that's lasted for 10 to 20 years.

The older women in the study flunked the "exhale" test, which is where a doc asks you to breathe into a mouthpiece to see how much air you can force out. It's a pretty reliable indicator of lung capacity, and the older women who routinely used cleaning chemicals simply weren't up to snuff.

If there's any good news, it's that this is different from smoking damage in one important way: It's generally not the kind of problem that'll lead to lung cancer.

But it certainly can leave you struggling to catch your breath and facing other serious respiratory problems.

In the study, the women who used the cleaners -- and struggled on those lung tests -- were also more likely to have asthma. That's a dangerous condition at any age, but it can be especially difficult when you're older and already facing a higher risk of other respiratory conditions.

If you're using harsh chemical cleaners, it's time to make a switch. But don't just overpay for anything that screams "natural," "green," or "organic" on the label.

Those words are used pretty loosely when it comes to cleaning products.

In fact, they're often downright meaningless.

Do some homework -- you'll find some excellent resources if you search online -- and you'll find cleaners that can keep your home sparkling and tidy without damaging your lungs and putting you and your family at risk of breathing problems.

While you're at it, get some surgical masks and use them while cleaning.

A mask will not only help keep the worst of the fumes out of your lungs, but it will also block dust, which can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals and other pollutants.