Just when we all thought that we might be able to finally put our masks away, grooming health and safety experts are reminding us that we should have always been wearing masks at work to prevent Groomers Lung and other respiratory disorders. Wearing masks is an important safety practice that all groomers should continue to implement for the rest of our careers whenever we are in an environment where grooming is taking place.
This isn’t new information. Instructional textbooks for student groomers written many years ago, such as Introduction to the Foundations of Dog Grooming by Karla Addington-Smith, CMG, show photos of groomers wearing masks, urging this important basic safety practice. This and other grooming textbooks dating back thirty years and more have all encouraged masking while grooming. In addition, grooming safety educators speak about this regularly at trade shows and in online educational seminars. So, thankfully, groomers are becoming more aware of the risks of grooming unmasked.
Groomers Lung is, sadly, a chronic condition, which means it is permanent going forward. The condition affects our lung function and can be very debilitating. Pet groomers are at high risk due to constantly breathing in tiny bits of hair, dander and other particles as we bathe, blow-dry, brush, comb and trim pets. Over time, this difficult and dangerous problem can lead to inflammation and, in severe cases, scar tissue. Some former groomers must even carry oxygen tanks with them wherever they go. It is one of the most serious and debilitating side effects of a grooming career, alongside damaged hearing, joint and bone issues, especially in our hands, as we age.
Groomers Lung is caused by inhaling particulate matter, or PM. The United States Federal Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) website describes it this way: “PM stands for particulate matter (also called particle pollution): the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.” The particulate matter thrown off while grooming is generally that “invisible” type—usually too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Medical experts warn that once we get Groomers Lung, it will likely affect us for the rest of our lives. Symptoms include chronic coughing, frequent chest pain and general inflammation of the airway. Groomers also suffer from other lung-related issues like bronchitis or pneumonia, and those with existing respiratory issues such as asthma, or those who are smokers or are exposed to second-hand smoke, may be at an even higher risk. Our bronchial tubes, once damaged, can’t be repaired.
When groomers clip and brush a dog, tiny pieces of hair, clumps of fur and dander fly through the air. When this material is introduced into the air in the shop—especially if there is no active air filtration system in place—groomers are going to inhale it. This hair, fur and dander will travel deep into the lungs and accumulate. Lungs are a dead end; it is easy for air and dust to enter, but leaving may be impossible. Human lungs are not capable of processing or breaking down this airborne material.
NOT WORTH THE RISK
Famed groomer, author and educator Jodi Murphy has been very vocal about Groomers Lung ever since she was diagnosed with it. Courageously, she has spoken about this problem for years. But until the pandemic hit, she couldn’t really get people interested in wearing masks while grooming. “But now that we are used to wearing them,” she said, “all groomers should really continue to wear them. Everyone thinks this will not happen to them. I had always been a very healthy, active person. Now I deal with this every day, and it sucks—it’s the worst—and totally not worth taking the risk.”
Jodi believes that mobile groomers (as she was for many years) are even more susceptible because of the confined space they work in. And she warns that mask wearing is especially important during blow-drying. Dogs’ skin and coat shed off the largest amounts of particulate matter while being blown dry.
Jodi Murphy went to Mt. Sinai Hospital for treatment, where the Doctors told her, “Breathing in those particles is an irritant to your airways, causing a constant cough. That is how it starts—coughing from the irritants. It’s the reaction of your lungs to the irritant. The bronchial tubes are damaged by the chronic coughing, creating mucous. These lead to lung infections and inflammation. All you can do, for the rest of your life, is to keep your airways open, and several times a day thin your mucous by using a nebulizer with an albuterol and sodium chloride solution.”
As we know, pets can carry all sorts of germs on or inside them. When she was first diagnosed with Groomers Lung, Jodi reported that doctors found pseudomonas bacteria in her lungs—a very serious bacterial infection. She was put on a treatment which is usually reserved for cystic fibrosis patients. It took a full year of treatment to get the bacterial complication out of her lungs.
A resource article on DaySmartPet.com1 points out additional benefits to protecting our lungs by keeping our workspaces clean and grooming on a colored surface that better shows the hair, such as the pink mat I have on my table. This way, you are better able to clean and remove all the little hairs from your workspace. Vacuuming is better than brushing it onto the floor, and it is important to stay masked during your clean-up times, too!
NOT JUST ANY MASK
Wearing a mask at all times while you are grooming helps to prevent this very serious condition, but the masks have to be of a kind that filter out tiny particles of dander and hair. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) websites both recommend N95 masks that completely cover your mouth and nose to filter out any dangers from particulates in the air.
Complete coverage of the nose and mouth is critically important, as we have all learned during this trying and historic pandemic we have been living through. Wear a new mask every day, or wash reusable masks well between uses. Reusing a mask from the previous day only worsens your exposure to these tiny damaging particles as they will collect and build up in the fabric as well.
Plastic face shields are not adequate because they allow most of the air in the room to still reach your face and nose. Industrial air scrubbers and air purification systems help to maintain healthy air in your salon, but even with this equipment, groomers should still always wear a mask.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
Just remember that there are a whole host of other professions that have to mask up while at work—medical personnel, beauticians, estheticians, cosmetologists, nail technicians, coal miners, construction workers, insulation installers and lots of others are also at high risk of infection and disease of the lungs from particulate matter. We are not alone. We should also be proud of our commitment to each other in this very special profession, our service to the dogs and our promise to take care of our own health so that we can live longer, happier lives.
If you haven’t been following this important safety practice as a career groomer, now is a great time to start. After all, we have all been enduring this mask-wearing thing for two years now—we’ve got it down! ✂️
- Groomers Lung: 6 Tips to Help Groomers Stay Safe and Healthy. (18, Jan, 2021). DaySmart Pet. https://www.daysmartpet.com/news/groomers-lung/