Mothers exposed to cleaning agents are 71% more likely to have children with asthma, study claims

Children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of cleaning products and disinfectants are significantly more likely to develop asthma, a study has claimed. 

Researchers who looked at more than 3,000 mothers and their children found youngsters were at an up to 71 per cent increased risk of the condition if their parent worked in a job where they regularly handled cleaning agents.

This was even true for women who had quit these jobs years before conceiving their child, suggesting the cleaning agents directly affected their eggs.

The team of researchers, led by the University of Bergen in Norway, said women who work as cleaners, nurses and cooks, could be at increased risk. 

Previous research has warned against babies being exposed to cleaning products such as dishwashing soap, dishwasher detergent, multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners, and laundry soap because of the link to asthma. 

These products often contain chemical compounds that inflame the airways and make it difficult to breathe.

More than 8million people in the UK are estimated to have asthma, about 12 per cent of the population. 

In the US there an estimated 25million asthma sufferers, about eight per cent of the population. 

A team of scientists have claimed that women who are exposed to high amounts of cleaning products and disinfectants can be 71 per cent more likely to have a child with asthma 

Professor Cecilie Svanes of University of Bergen in Norway and one of the authors of the latest study said their work shone new light on the relationship between parental exposure to chemicals and child health. 

‘Many future mothers are exposed to potent chemicals at work, but potential offspring health effects are hardly investigated’, she said.

‘However, emerging research suggests that parents’ chemical exposures before conception might influence the health in future offspring.’

Although the team has theorised that exposure to cleaning agents may impact a woman’s eggs increasing childhood asthma, Professor Svanes added that this was speculation, and more research was needed. 


Asthma is a common but incurable condition which affects the small tubes inside the lungs.

It can cause them to become inflamed, or swollen, which restricts the airways and makes it harder to breathe.

The condition affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood. Symptoms may improve or even go away as children grow older, but can return in adulthood.

Symptoms include wheezing, breathlessness, a tight chest and coughing, and these may get worse during an asthma attack.

Treatment usually involves medication which is inhaled to calm down the lungs.

Triggers for the condition include allergies, dust, air pollution, exercise and infections such as cold or flu.

If you think you or your child has asthma you should visit a doctor, because it can develop into more serious complications like fatigue or lung infections.

Source: NHS  

‘Further research is imperative, considering the potential implications for vast numbers of women in childbearing age using cleaning agents, and their children’, she said.

The study’s findings were presented at 2020 European Respiratory Journal International Congress and not published online. 

This not the first time that a study has linked supposed ‘clean living’ to poorer health outcomes for children. 

A study published earlier this month, theorised that modern life may be making breast milk less beneficial for babies and leaving them prone to allergies, a study suggests.

Experts analysed the milk of dozens of Mennonite women, who follow a traditional way of life devoid of modern technology and pesticides — similar to the Amish.

Samples were also taken from women living in the nearby city of Rochester.

Comparisons of the collections revealed Mennonite women produced milk which was more abundant in antibodies and bacteria. 

University of Rochester researchers believe their traditional way of life — which sees women exposed to farm animals and unpasteurised food — could help ‘programme’ the developing gut microbiota and immune system of their babies. 

They say the ‘farm-life effect’ may also explain why allergies are less common among Mennonites. 

Dr Antti Seppo, a paediatrician involved in the research, claimed the findings were important because they could point to why rates of atopic disease are ‘exploding’ in western countries. 

He added: ‘Perhaps one day these insights may help to prevent or mitigate these diseases.’    

Some scientists have suggested this could be explained by a ‘hygiene hypothesis’ that suggests sterile, modern living weakens our immune systems is to blame.

Without exposure to dirt and germs early in life, it is claimed the immune system doesn’t learn how to control its reaction to everyday particles such as dust and pollen. This could cause the body to overreact when it comes into contact with harmless substances.

But the science behind the theory is still disputed, with other academics saying it distracts from finding the true cause of the rising prevalence of allergies.

Previous studies have also suggested some professions are at greater risk of developing diseases relating to exposure to cleaning products and disinfectants. 

A US study in 2019 of more than 70,000 females nurses found they had a 25-35 per cent increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a name for variety of lung conditions, due to occupational exposure to these products. 

The NHS states that there is not enough evidence to suggest that modern hygiene standards can be linked to asthma. 

Toxic chemicals while pregnant. What can I do to reduce my risk? 

Should I be worried?

Some research has found potential links between being exposed to household chemicals and pregnancy complications. These complications have included preterm birth, low birth weight, pregnancy loss and conditions in the baby’s later life, such as asthma. However, it is important to remember that only potential links have been found. These complications may have been caused by other factors, including lifestyle choices and various other health conditions.

Some evidence shows that using cleaning sprays, air fresheners and solvents during pregnancy may increase the risk of wheezing and infections for children after birth. However, much more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between exposure to chemicals and the risk of developing asthma.

Although these studies may sound frightening, the risk for most people is very low and shouldn’t be something for you to worry about. If you are concerned, it’s a good idea to speak to your midwife.

What about using chemical cleaners at home?

 When you use cleaning products, try to ventilate the room during and after cleaning by opening the windows to get some fresh air. If you are cleaning your oven, make sure the room is well ventilated and read instructions carefully. Many oven cleaners produce a lot of fumes from strong chemicals.

Some products say they are free of ‘harmful’ chemicals or label themselves as ‘natural’. This does not always mean they are completely safe. If you are very worried about using cleaning products, you could try using completely natural products instead. White distilled vinegar is a great natural cleaner and you can add lemon or herbs to give a nice smell. Baking soda can also be a great cleaner, especially on ovens.

My job requires me to use cleaning  products what should I do?

If you are concerned about chemicals at work, speak to your employer. They are responsible for doing a risk assessment to identify potential workplace risks during pregnancy. They need protect you from these as much as possible, for example, your employer may improve ventilation or provide extra protection.

However, even when you know what chemicals you work with, and how much you are exposed to, there is no way of fully knowing any risks to your baby. There is currently no evidence for safe or harmful levels of exposure. The best way to protect yourself and your baby is to keep exposure as low as possible, as a precaution.

 Source: Tommy’s