Chemicals that Cause Allergies
By Erica Zelfand

Genetics alone can’t explain the rise in allergic diseases we’ve seen in the industrialized world.

Allergic conditions are on the rise.

In fact, the rate of peanut allergy has doubled in the US and UK in the ten years between 1990 and 2000.

There are several factors at play here – many of which I delve into in this podcast episode. But it’s undeniable that chemicals affect us. And research shows that certain chemicals significantly increase our chances of becoming allergic.


Some chemicals to watch out for – and to avoid – include the following:



What it is: An antimicrobial that has been in use since the 1970’s.

Sources to Avoid: Triclosan is still present in many detergents, hand sanitizers, some toothpaste, deodorants, and even some children’s toys.

Health Risks: The more a child is exposed to this chemical, the greater his risk of developing allergies, in addition to some other illnesses. Triclosan degrades into dioxin, which binds to estrogen receptors in the body. This can lead to thyroid dysfunction, as well as problems with growth and development. It can also hang around in the environment for decades, thereby increasing the risks.


Bisphenol-A (BPA)ID-100307819

What it is: A chemical found in many plastics

Sources to Avoid: BPA leeches from the lining of canned foods, white dental fillings, plastic trays (like those seen in microwave dinners), plastic water bottles, and sadly even some baby bottles.

Health Risks: Like triclosan, BPA binds to estrogen receptors. It’s specifically been linked to asthma and breast cancer. Children exposed in utero to BPA have a greater risk of developing asthma, and rats exposed in utero were more likely to have inflamed guts at birth.


Acetaminophen (Paracetamol, Tylenol)ID-1006670

What it is: Over-the-counter painkiller often used by children, adults, and pregnant women.

Sources to Avoid: Acetaminophen is commercially sold under the brand name Tylenol. In other parts of the world, the medication is also known as paracetamol.

Health Risks: Use of acetaminophen is linked with allergic disease: more than 20 studies have associated it with either allergic sensitization or wheezing. Prenatal exposure seems the most important, so it’s important for pregnant women to avoid this medication. It also seems that the more you use this medication, the greater the risk. There’s some speculation that it may even be linked with autism, largely because the drug interferes with the body’s production of glutathione, an important antioxidant essential for detox. Those with autism tend to have lower levels of glutathione, hence the suspicion – although the jury is still out on the autism issue.


ID-100368439Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) Cream

What it is: Topical anti-histamine cream often used for allergic reactions such as rashes.

Sources to Avoid: Antihistamine creams and ointments, often sold under the brand name Benadryl in the US.

Health Risks: There is emerging evidence that using the cream topically can sensitize a child, increasing their risk of developing an allergy to oral anti-histamines down the line. If your kiddo is having an allergic reaction, it’s fine to give the oral Benadryl pills or liquid; it seems to be the first exposure through the skin that causes problems.




Moises Velasquez-Manoff. An Epidemic of Absence. New York: Scriber, 2013, pp. 296-297.

H. Savage et al., “Triclosan, a Common Ingredient in Household Products, Is Associated with Allergic Sensitization,” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 129, no. 2 (2012). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

B. Paul et al., “Developmental Triclosan Exposure Decreases Maternal and Neonatal Thyroxine in Rats,” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 29, no. 12 (2010). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

M. Clayton et al., “The Impact of Bisphenol A and Triclosan on Immune Parameters in the U.S. Population, NHANES 2003-2006,” Environmental Health Perspectives 110, no. 3 (2011). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

M. Braun et al., “Impact of Early-life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children,” Pediatrics 128, no. 5 (2011). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

Adam J. Spanier et al., “Prenatal Bisphenol A is a Risk Factor for Early Transient Wheeze” (presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, 2011). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

Midoro-Horiuti et al., “Maternal Bisphenol A Exposure Promoted the Development of Expiermental Asthma in Mouse Pups,” Environmental Health Perspectives 118, no. 2 (2010).

Braniste et al., “Impact of Oral Bisphenol A at Reference Doses on Intestinal Barrier Function and Sex Differences After Perinatal Exposure in Rate,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 1 (2010). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

Christie Aschwanden, “Studies Suggest an Acetaminophen-Asthma Link,” New York Times, December 19, 2011.

Richard W. Beasley et al., “Acetaminophen Use and Risk of Asthma, Rhinoconjunctivitis, and Eczema in Adolescents: International Study of Asthma and allergies in Childhood Phase Three,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 183, no. 2 (2011). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

T. McBride, “The Association of Acetaminophen and Asthma Prevalence and Severity,” Pediatrics 128, no. 6 (2011). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.296.

Seif O. Shaheen et al., “Prenatal and Infant Acetaminophen Exposure, Antioxidant Gene Polymorphisms, and Childhood Asthma,” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 126, no. 6 (2010). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.297.

Becker and S. Schultz, “Similarities in Features of Autism and Asthma and a Possible Link to Acetaminophen Use,” Medical Hypotheses (2009). As cited in Velasquez-Manoff, p.297.

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