Link between phthalates and early eczema uncovered

By Helen Albert

Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that prenatal exposure to butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), a common component of vinyl flooring, may increase a child's risk for developing early eczema.

"While hereditary factors, allergens, and exposure to tobacco smoke are known to contribute to the condition, our study is the first to show that prenatal exposure to BBzP is a risk factor," said lead author Allan Just (Columbia University, New York, USA) in a press statement.

The team enrolled 407 nonsmoking women of African‑American and Dominican ethnicity and their children to take part in the study.

The women provided urine samples that were tested for monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP), the main metabolite of BBzP in urine, during the third trimester of pregnancy. The women were also questioned about whether their children developed symptoms of eczema between 0 and 60 months of age.

In total, 30% of the children in the study developed eczema by the age of 2 years. Of these, 48% were African‑American and 21% Dominican.

Most (>99%) maternal urine samples tested positive for MBzP. The team calculated that an increase in maternal log MBzP of 5.7 ng/ml (interquartile range) was associated with a significant 52% increased risk for childhood eczema before the age of 2 years following adjustment for factors such as urine specific gravity, gender, and ethnicity.

To evaluate whether sensitivity to common allergens may influence the relationship between prenatal BBzP exposure and early eczema, the researchers also tested the children for total, anticockroach, dust mite, and mouse immunoglobulin E levels at 24, 36, and 60 months of age.

But no association between maternal MBzP levels and sensitization to these allergens was found and seroatopy did not appear to influence the association between MBzP level and early childhood eczema.

"We know allergies are a factor with some childhood eczema, but our data suggest that is not the case when BBzP is involved," study co-author Rachel Miller, also from Columbia University, told the press.

"However, these are important findings, given that eczema is a common and uncomfortable disease of early childhood," she added.

These findings add to others demonstrating the adverse health consequences of phthalate exposure including delayed motor skill development and behavioral problems in children and disruption of the endocrine system in children and adults.

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