By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children exposed to cleaning products and other household chemicals before or after birth may be at increased risk of breathing problems, results of a study published Wednesday hint.
British researchers found that young children whose mothers frequently used household chemicals during pregnancy were at greater risk of wheezing than their peers.
The more often their mothers used products like bleach, disinfectants, glass cleaner and insect sprays, the greater the children's odds of developing a wheezing problem by age 7.
The findings, published in the European Respiratory Journal, do not prove that household chemicals directly caused the children's lung problems.
The researchers tried to account for a number of variables in children's wheezing risk -- like mothers' smoking during pregnancy or household pets. But other "confounding" factors could be at play, according to lead researcher Dr. John Henderson of the University of Bristol.
"We can only state that there is an association between frequent use of this range of products, and the message should probably be 'use in moderation,'" he told Reuters Health.
The findings are based on 7,162 UK children who were followed from birth. During pregnancy, their mothers were asked how frequently they used various household chemicals, from "not at all" to "every day."
After their children were born, mothers were periodically asked about any wheezing symptoms the child had developed.
Overall, children's risk of wheezing climbed in tandem with mothers' use of household chemicals, the investigators found.
Although mothers were asked about cleaning product use during pregnancy, Henderson said his team suspects that children's exposure to such chemicals after birth, rather than prenatal exposure, may be the problem.
Mothers who used household chemicals frequently during pregnancy tended to do so over time as well. It's possible that breathing the products irritates young children's airways and causes inflammation, Henderson explained.
It's not clear, however, which home products might be the "culprit," the researcher noted.
"Until the effects are better understood, we cannot recommend substituting any particular product with safer alternatives," Henderson said.
And while "natural" cleaning products, like vinegar or lemon juice, might be safer, he noted, there is no research on whether they are better or worse for children's respiratory health.
SOURCE: European Respiratory Journal, March 2008.