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Infants exposed to cleaning products could be at increased risk of asthma

Researchers say it’s crucial to limit exposure during the first few months of infants’ lives

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Recent studies have explored how using certain cleaning products can create higher levels of air pollutants, and others have delved into how this indoor air pollution can lead to several health risks. 

Now, researchers from Simon Fraser University have found that infants who are frequently exposed to chemicals from cleaning products during the first three months of their lives could be at an increased risk of developing asthma. 

“The big takeaway from the study is that the first few months of life are critical for the development of a baby’s immune and respiratory systems,” said researcher Jaclyn Parks. “By identifying hazardous exposures during infancy, preventive measures can be taken to potentially reduce childhood asthma and subsequent allergy risk.”  

More cleaning products, worsening asthma symptoms

The researchers had over 2,000 children involved in the study to determine how exposure to cleaning products as a newborn can affect the likelihood of developing asthma. 

When the study began, the infants were between three and four months old. Parents answered questionnaires on how often their babies were exposed to 26 different cleaning products, including everything from laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid to air fresheners and disinfectants. 

The researchers followed up with the children when they reached three years old and determined that greater exposure to cleaning products not only increased the likelihood of the children developing asthma, but it also yielded more severe asthma symptoms. 

Overall, asthma was prevalent in eight percent of children from high-exposure homes, whereas less than five percent of children from low-exposure homes were diagnosed. Eleven percent of children with a high exposure to cleaners developed a recurrent wheeze, which is one of the most common asthma symptoms, while under eight percent of children with low exposure were affected in this way. 

The researchers also found that girls fared worse than boys when it came to respiratory health, though more work is required to understand what role gender plays in this area. 

What products to avoid

Parents can help protect their newborns from struggling with asthma throughout childhood. The researchers identified several different products that were found to be harmful to developing lungs, and many of them had one common denominator: scents. 

According to researcher Jaclyn Parks, “liquid or solid air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, dusting sprays, antimicrobial hand sanitizers, and oven cleaners” were all items associated with more severe asthma symptoms. 

“It may be important for people to consider removing scented spray cleaning products from their cleaning routine,” Parks said. “We believe that the smell of a healthy home is no smell at all.” 

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