February 18, 2020
Everyone enjoys a clean and tidy house.
But families with newborn babies should be mindful of the products they're using.
Early exposure to the chemicals found in common cleaning products may increase a child's risk of developing asthma and wheeze by age 3, according to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The chemicals can trigger inflammation that results in damage to the infant's respiratory lining, researchers say. Changes to an infant's microbiome – the microorganisms living inside the child – also may be a factor.
Researchers asked the parents of 2,022 children to complete a questionnaire about their child's exposure to cleaning products from birth to age 3 or 4 months. They evaluated the children for asthma once they turned three years old.
The most common cleaning products identified included hand dishwashing soap, dishwasher detergent, multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners and laundry soap. Researchers found that scented and sprayed cleaning products were associated with the highest risk of respiratory issues.
More than half of the children involved in the study did not have a parental history of asthma and had not been exposed to tobacco smoke as newborn infants. Researchers collected data for their study between 2008 and 2015.
"Most of the evidence linking asthma to the use of cleaning products comes from adults," said lead researcher Tim Takaro, a clinician-scientist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
"Our study looked at infants, who typically spend 80% - 90% of their time indoors and are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures through the lungs and skin due to their higher respiration rates and regular contact with household surfaces."
To limit an infant's exposure to chemicals, the researchers recommended choosing cleaning products that are not sprayed and are free of any volatile organic compounds. They emphasized that it is important to balance the risk presented by these chemicals with the risk of a home containing high mold and allergen levels.
Manufacturers in the United States and Canada are not required to list all of the ingredients in their cleaning products, researchers said. Because there is little regulation, even so-called "green" products may contain harmful chemicals.
In a corresponding commentary, Dr. Elissa Abrams, an allergist at the University of Manitoba and the University of Columbia, praised the study for identifying avoidable asthma risk factors and offering preventative changes.
"Studies looking at longer-term outcomes including into school age are required to accurately predict the long-term and chronic burden that such airway irritants may pose to the developing airways of young children," she wrote.