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Childhood asthma risk raised by exposure to cleaning products in pregnancy

By Nigel Praities

Pregnant women who are exposed to everyday household cleaning products may be at increased risk of giving birth to a child who develops asthma, UK researchers warn.

High exposure to household chemicals before birth was linked to the development of wheeze by the age of seven, the study of 14,000 children in the Bristol area found.

Children exposed prenatally to high levels of chemicals contained in bleach, paint and air freshener had a 37% increased risk of developing early onset persistent wheeze. The odds increased to 47% in children without allergy.

Dr John Henderson, lead author of the study and a reader in paediatric respiratory medicine at the University of Bristol, said small children might be more likely to develop asthma in homes where more chemicals are used.

‘We speculate that it is perhaps due to irritant effects of the chemicals on the child post-natally and that they may cause inflammation and be a cause of asthma,' he said.

Dr Henderson said more research was needed, but in the meantime GPs should ‘advise moderation' in the use of household cleaning agents in the homes of very young children.

Dr Dermot Ryan, a GP in Loughborough, Leicester, and a member of the research committee of the General Practice Airways Group, said he was ‘absolutely sure' household chemicals may have an effect on the development of asthma, but more research was needed before any advice could be offered to patients.

‘There is a huge question mark over this area. Until there is such a time that there is hard evidence, advising patients about something that may or may not be harmful would be irresponsible,' he said.

The research appears in the March issue of the European Respiratory Journal.

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