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Is over-use of cleaning products a factor in the rise in allergies?

No. We may keep reading such suggestions in the papers but when you look at the evidence, it simply doesn’t support that idea.

The rise in allergies has been mainly in atopic conditions such as hay fever, eczema and asthma, especially among children. These allergies have risen rapidly in the last 50 years and multiplied many times over, but cleaning product use per person has risen only slowly, by about 50% in the same time. And if you look at patterns of atopic allergies around Europe, which vary a lot, they simply don’t match the patterns of soap, detergent or cleaning product use. For example, household cleaner usage per person in the UK, France and Italy is very similar, varying by no more than 10%. Italy uses the most, yet it has only a quarter the asthma rate we do in the UK, and France only a half.

Some scientists have speculated that some cleaning products could induce adult asthma or similar respiratory symptoms by irritating the airways, but studies of people who clean their own homes have found no convincing evidence to support this. These studies have also shown no effect on the atopic allergies.

The only mechanism by which cleaning might plausibly promote atopic allergies is through changed contact with microbes – the hygiene hypothesis — rather than through some direct action of the ingredients. But even here there's no actual evidence that having a clean home increases the risk of allergies. In fact, studies show that cleaning products play a helpful role in controlling harmful allergens and reducing symptoms among sufferers.

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