Cleaning products and childhood asthma – Expert Reaction

Early exposure to household cleaning products is associated with the development of childhood asthma and wheeze by age three, according to new Canadian research.

Researchers looked at data from questionnaires filled out by parents of more than 2,000 children aged three to four months. The children were then assessed at age three to determine whether they had asthma, recurrent wheeze, or allergic sensitisation (atopy). While there appears to be an association between early exposure to cleaning products and risk of asthma and wheeze, there appears to be no association with atopy.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert comment on the research.

Dr Olivier Gasser, Group leader at Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, comments:

“The authors identified an association between the use of household cleaning products and the development of wheeze and asthma in infants. This study does not establish causation but supports the current paradigm in the field, which links respiratory allergies to environmental factors.

“While this study contributes to the overall understanding in this particular field of research, and may initiate important behavioral changes in parents, it highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms which cause these respiratory illnesses. Of particular importance, future studies need to consider the skin as a cofactor for respiratory disease initiation. The household cleaning products with the highest ‘average use score’, as listed in this study, could have indeed primarily interacted with the skin (for instance, hand washing detergent, laundry detergent, multi-surface cleaner). The skin is known to communicate with the lung and is oftentimes the initial site of allergic sensitization in humans.

“As the authors point out, a link between indoor exposure to volatile organic compounds has been associated with atopic dermatitis / eczema in a previous 2015 study. Allergic respiratory illnesses should therefore not be studied in isolation but rather considered to be part of a continuum of diseases involving all mucosal surfaces, which also include the gut, since emerging research suggests that dishwasher detergent residue on crockery and cutlery can negatively influence the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract and open the door for chronic disease.”

No conflict of interest.