Asthma, Rhinitis and Eczema from Exposure to Phthalates in House Dust

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Home => Product Alerts => Children's Exposure to Phthalates in House Dust Linked to Increased Risk of Asthma, Rhinitis and Eczema

Children's Exposure to Phthalates in House Dust Linked to Increased Risk of Asthma, Rhinitis and Eczema

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Have you ever made an inventory in your home to see how much plastic you have?

What don't you do that after reading this article?

We eat with plastic utensils, we drink from plastic cups, we buy drinks in plastic bottles, we put food in plastic containers, we buy food wrapped in plastic, almost everything we buy nowadays is wrapped or packaged in plastic, the fridge is full of plastic, the toys are all made with plastic, TV's, fans, heaters, computers, vinyl flooring … plastic, plastic everywhere.

Our homes, cars, work places, are filled with plastic. It's like we live in a plastic world.

And with plastic, we have the privilege to be exposed to substances called phthalates (pronounced THALL-ates), since phthalates leach out of the plastic.

An extensive study, one of many, in Sweden found that house dust containing phthalates is associated with higher rates of asthma, eczema and other allergy symptoms.

Phthalates are widely used in plastic products such as food containers and wraps to add flexibility. They are also used in skin softeners and moisturizers, nail polishes, insect repellants, shower curtains, hairsprays, building products including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring, and more. Because phthalates leach out of these products, they've become a common environmental contaminant.

The increase in the incidence of allergy and asthmas in the developed world over the last 30 years suggests that changes in environmental exposure, rather than genetic changes, are the cause. The worldwide production of compounds from phthalates has risen from very low levels at the end of World War II to approximately 3.5 million metric tons per year.

What does this mean to us the humans (not made of plastic, by the way) exposed to all this?

The aim of the extensive study in Sweden was to investigate potential associations between persistent allergic symptoms in children and the concentrations of different phthalates in dust collected from their homes.

198 children, who had at least two symptoms (classified under the name "cases"), and 202 children with no symptoms (classified under the name "controls") were part of this 2-week study.

Medical examination on those children was performed during the same 2 weeks while the technical investigations of the homes, including dust collection, were carried out. Medical doctors examined the children and took a detailed history of each child. Blood samples were drawn from the children and they were screened for common allergens.

This study showed that the three major phthalates, BBzP (butyl benzyl phthalate), DEHP (di(2)-ethylhexyl phthalate), and di-n-butyl phthalate, within the range higher of what is normally found in indoor environments, are associated with allergic symptoms in children.

Cases had higher concentrations of BBzP in the dust samples from the children's bedrooms than did the controls. Cases with physician-diagnosed rhinitis or eczema had higher BBzP concentrations in the bedroom dust compared to the controls. Furthermore, cases with doctor-diagnosed asthma had higher DEHP concentrations in the dust compared to the controls.

It's clear that this study found associations between dust concentrations of specific phthalate esters and asthma, rhinitis, and eczema. As described above, they found that BBzP is significantly associated with doctor-diagnosed rhinitis and eczema, whereas DEHP is significantly associated with doctor-diagnosed asthma.

Although multiple factors are likely responsible for the increases in allergies and asthma that have been documented in developed countries over the past 30 years, it is striking that these increases have occurred during a period when plasticized products have become common in the homes, schools, and workplaces of the developed world.

The researchers suggest that their study design was stringent, and the actual impact may be larger.

"Phthalates are all around us in a host of plastic products," said Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). "This study suggests that they may be having a direct influence on the health of a great number of children. We need to continue research in this area to balance the benefits of plastics with the need to battle asthma and allergies in children."

You, as a parent, if you have a child with asthma, eczema and other allergy symptoms, may consider reducing the amount of plastic products in your home or perhaps have your home tested for phthalates presence.

Given that the dust concentrations of DnBP, BBzP, and DEHP display quite different associations with different symptoms, the associations reflect a biologic response rather than just lifestyle or demographic factors associated with an increased use of plasticized materials.

This study clearly demonstrates associations between BBzP and DEHP concentrations in dust and selected allergies and asthma.


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