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Disposable Diapers Linked to 'Asthma-Like' Conditions in Mice.

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Anderson, whose lab looks at health effects of airborne chemicals, says diapers "are very mean compared to some of the things we've looked at," such as vinyl mattress covers. "The asthma effect is much stronger," she says.

The researchers exposed normal mice to the emissions of three brands of unnamed, clean, disposable diapers, and one brand of cloth diapers, for one hour in enclosed, controlled environments. The disposable diapers were chosen randomly at a nearby store, and named brands A, B, and C.

The irritations were categorized into sensory irritations (eyes, nose, mouth), pulmonary irritations (of the lungs), and "the rate at which you are able to exhale," one of the major measurements used in defining asthma in humans, Anderson tells WebMD.

After one hour of exposure to the disposable diapers, all three bands led to sensory irritation and decreased breathing capacity. However, the findings were most significant for "brand A" followed by "brand B" and "brand C." Cloth diapers produced only small changes.

Repeat exposures, up to six and 24 hours later, in some cases more than doubled the sensory and pulmonary irritation, and breathing problems with "brand A." For "brand B" the effect was even more dramatic. Negative effects in the mice in that sample at least doubled, and sensory irritation spiked by a multiple of four.

Anderson says "that's a problem" because extended exposure leads to a reaction that "has a life of its own."

According to the authors of the study, the "prevalence of childhood asthma has increased approximately three-fold during the past several decades."

Anderson tells WebMD that her study shows diapers, perhaps in concert with other products used for infants, could contribute to the "mysterious" rise in asthma. But further population studies need to be done to discover if her findings are really a "big deal," she says.

Anderson Laboratories is a private, for-profit corporation.

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