Children Exposed to Cleaning Products More Likely to Develop Asthma: New Study

The findings of a new study indicate that frequent exposure to common household cleaning products may increase a child’s risk of developing asthma or other respiratory problems. According to the study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the highest level of exposure to household cleaning products like dish soap, dishwasher detergent or glass cleaner during the first three or four months after birth was associated with a 37% increased risk of asthma by the time the exposed child turned three years old. Childhood exposure was also associated with other chronic respiratory issues, including a 35% increased risk of a recurring wheeze.

Infants at Risk for Asthma, Recurring Wheeze

The researchers involved in this new Canadian study used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Cohort Study, which looked at how often 26 household cleaning products were used in the homes of 2,000 children from birth to age three or four months. The researchers used this information to determine how closely frequent household cleaner use was related to a diagnosis of chronic asthma, wheezing or allergic sensitization, when compared to less frequent use. The household products parents used most often in the study included dish soap, dishwasher detergent, glass cleaners, laundry soap and multi-surface cleaners.

The children involved in the cohort study were followed up with at age three to determine whether they had asthma, a recurring wheeze, allergic sensitization or other respiratory problems. According to the study authors, infants with the highest levels of exposure to popular cleaning products during the first few months of their lives had a 37% increased risk of being diagnosed with asthma and a 35% increased risk of suffering from a recurring wheezing by age three. The highest risk of asthma and wheezing was tied to sprayed and scented products and the researchers also found that females faced a greater risk of asthma or wheeze than males. Additionally, the researchers noted that they found a link in children who were not exposed to secondhand smoke, which eliminated that as a potential contributing factor in their respiratory issues.

Childhood Asthma in the U.S.

Childhood asthma is a leading cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and missed school days among children across the United States. In children with asthma, the lungs and airways become inflamed when they are exposed to triggers, such as pollen and the chemicals in certain cleaning products. Sadly, there is no cure for childhood asthma and the symptoms associated with asthma in childhood can continue into adulthood. “Our findings add to the understanding of how early life exposures to cleaning products may be associated with the development of allergic airway disease and help to identify household behaviors as a potential area for intervention,” the researchers in this study wrote.

Infants Especially Vulnerable to Respiratory Issues

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at the possible connection between exposure to widely used household cleaning products and the development of asthma and other respiratory problems. However, while previous research has focused on exposure to household cleaning products and asthma in adults, this latest study specifically looked at exposure and related harm in infants. According to lead author Dr. Tim Takaro, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, infants are especially vulnerable because:

  • Their respiratory and immune systems are still developing,
  • They have rapid respiratory rates and their small size means they are more affected by smaller exposures to household cleaning agents than older children, and
  • They spend the majority of their time indoors and come in regular contact with surfaces where cleaning products are used.

Says Takaro, “Based on what we know about this type of exposure with the multiple chemicals known to contribute to asthma, the complexity of asthma and allergic disease, and findings from other studies, we, as researchers, weren’t surprised [by the results of the study]. However, we think parents will be.”

Preventing Exposure to Harmful Cleaning Products

“Society has conditioned us to believe that a home needs to smell of cleaning products in order to be ‘clean,’” says Takaro, “but that’s not the case.” According to the study authors, parents can reduce their children’s risk of asthma and other lung problems by avoiding the use of cleaners with volatile organic compounds, bleach and ammonia and those with natural fragrances, opting for simple cleaning solutions instead. Parents should also ensure that the house is adequately ventilated when using household cleaners, especially around children.