The use of disinfectants by pregnant women may be a risk factor for asthma and eczema in their children, according to a population study published online in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
The disinfectants are frequently used in hospitals and other medical facilities, and the pandemic of COVID-19 has led to an increase in its use in medical settings and also more widely, including by the general population.
Exposure to disinfectants in the workplace has been linked to asthma and dermatitis in previously exposed workersbut few studies have analyzed the impact of the use of disinfectants during pregnancy and the subsequent development of allergic diseases in children.
The authors used data from 78,915 pairs of mothers and children who participated in the Japan Study on the Environment and Childhood to examine whether mothers’ exposure to disinfectants in the workplace was associated with an increased risk of allergic disease diagnosis in their children at 3 years of age.
Children were significantly more likely to have asthma or eczema if their mothers used disinfectants one to six times a week, compared with the odds for children of mothers who never used disinfectants.
There was an exposure-dependent relationship between prenatal exposure to disinfectants and the odds of children having these allergic conditions, with children of mothers exposed to disinfectants every day having the highest odds of having a diagnosis: a 26% more for asthma and 29% more for eczema than children of mothers who were never exposed to disinfectants. There were no significant associations between the use of disinfectants and food allergies.
This is an observational study and as such cannot establish cause. The authors, from Yamanashi University in Japan, also pointed out some limitations, but conclude that these findings “indicate that exposure to disinfectants during pregnancy exerts an effect on allergies in the offspring, regardless of whether the mother returns to work when the child is one year oldand suggest an effect from exposure only during pregnancy.”
And they add: that, “Given the current increase in the use of disinfectants to prevent new coronavirus infections, it is of great importance for public health to consider whether prenatal exposure to disinfectants is a risk for the development of allergic diseases.yes”.
The authors suggest several mechanisms that could explain the increased risk of allergic diseases in children following their mothers’ exposure to disinfectants during pregnancy.
These include microbiome-mediated (disinfectants affect the gut and skin microflora of the mother and, subsequently, the child), immune-mediated (exposure to some chemicals during pregnancy affects the immune response of the fetus), postnatal exposure (children inhaled or touched disinfectant molecules on their mothers’ skin), or bias (mothers who use medical disinfectants frequently are likely to have more medical knowledge and better access to healthcare ).