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Are asthma and household cleaning products connected?

Children exposed to household cleaning products in early life are found to be more at risk of childhood asthma and wheeze.

Asthma is a chronic disease affecting 3.8 million Canadians with over 300 new diagnoses occurring each day. Airflow through the lungs is blocked by swelling and inflammation of the airways. Symptoms consist of wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness varying in severity. Inflammation in the airways can be triggered by several factors including viral illness, pets, dust, pollen, smoking, exercise, cold air, heightened emotions, and air pollutants. It is a lifelong condition with unknown cause and there is currently no cure. However, people with asthma can learn to avoid triggers, manage symptoms and live a full, active life.

The number of children being diagnosed with asthma has steadily increased over recent decades. Asthma is now the most common chronic disease in children and a leading cause of hospital admissions in Canada. Although the cause of asthma is not fully understood, many studies have investigated the effect of hazardous exposures to infants in early childhood. By trying to identify hazardous exposures, preventative measures can be put in place to reduce the risk of childhood asthma.

A new research study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal investigates the association between childhood asthma and household cleaning products. Researchers analysed data from a questionnaire completed by over 2000 parents of children enrolled in the Canadian Healthy Longitudinal Development (CHILD) cohort study. Participants in the study were recruited from multiple Canadian cities; Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Morden, and Winkler. Parental responses indicated that the children had all been exposed to the frequent use of twenty-six household cleaning products when they were three to four months of age. Children in the study were assessed at the age of three years to see if they had asthma, a recurrent wheeze or an allergic sensitisation (atopy). The majority of children had not been exposed to tobacco smoke and did not have a parental history of asthma.

The study reported an increased risk of developing childhood asthma and wheeze when exposed to the frequent use of household cleaning products in early life. However, no increased risk of atopy was seen. Scented cleaning sprays were highlighted to be the highest risk for this outcome.

It is thought that the chemicals in household cleaning products damage the respiratory lining causing an inflammatory response rather than an allergic one. To achieve a healthy, mold-free, low allergen, good air quality home, it is advised that parents read labels of cleaning products carefully. However, manufacturers in Canada are not required to list all ingredients in cleaning products, which can make an informed choice difficult. When infants are present, a precautionary approach to household cleaning products is reasonable. Children who are at risk of asthma may benefit from implementing this small but preventative change.


Written by Helen Massy BSc



Asthma Canada. (2020). Infants and Children – Asthma Canada. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

EurekAlert!. (2020). Early exposure to household cleaning products is associated with asthma and wheeze in young children. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

Ferrante, G. and La Grutta, S. (2018). The Burden of Pediatric Asthma. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 6.

Menzies-Gow, A., McBrien, C., Baker, J., Donnelly, L. and Cohen, R. (2019). Update in Asthma and Airway Inflammation 2018. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 200(1), pp.14-19.

Parks, J., McCandless, L., Dharma, C., Brook, J., Turvey, S., Mandhane, P., Becker, A., Kozyrskyj, A., Azad, M., Moraes, T., Lefebvre, D., Sears, M., Subbarao, P., Scott, J. and Takaro, T. (2020). Association of use of cleaning products with respiratory health in a Canadian birth cohort. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 192(7), pp.E154-E161.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay



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