Food allergies in children linked to baby wipes, study finds

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Scientists have found a link between food allergies in children and the use of baby wipes.

A US study found genetics and skin exposure to baby wipes, dust and food are all factors behind increasing levels of children with food allergies.

Lead study author Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, described the findings as a “major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life”.

Almost one in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy in the UK and they are becoming increasingly common.

Prof Cook-Mills said the findings show parents and care-givers can reduce the risk of food allergies in children by making simple changes in the home.

Peanut study
Researchers used a neonatal mouse model with skin barrier mutations and tried exposing its skin to food allergens like peanuts (Katie Collins/PA)

“Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago.”

Researchers said clinical evidence shows that up to 35% of children with food allergies have atopic dermatitis, much of which is explained by at least three different gene mutations that reduce the skin barrier.

They used a neonatal mouse model with skin barrier mutations and tried exposing its skin to food allergens like peanuts, finding the peanuts alone had no effect.

Prof Cook-Mills went on: “Then I thought about what are babies exposed to.

“They are exposed to environmental allergens in dust in a home. They may not be eating food allergens as a newborn, but they are getting them on their skin.

“Say a sibling with peanut butter on her face kisses the baby. Or a parent is preparing food with peanuts and then handles the baby.”

With regard to baby wipes, Prof Cook-Mills said that as the top skin layer is made of lipids (fats), the soap in the wipes disrupts that barrier.

They found skin problems that occur with skin barrier mutations may not be visible until long after a food allergy has already started.

The team found neonatal mice with the mutations had normal-appearing skin, and the dry itchy skin of dermatitis did not develop until the mice were a few months old, the equivalent of a young adult in human years.

After the neonatal mice received three to four skin exposures of food and dust allergens for 40 minutes during a two-week period, they were given egg or peanuts by mouth.

The mice had allergic reactions at the site of skin exposure, allergic reactions in the intestine, and the severe allergic food reaction of anaphylaxis that is measured by decreased body temperature.

Prof Cook-Mills said the mice studies provide a basis to test ways of preventing the development of food allergy in children.

The findings are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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