Parents are left scratching their heads after new study shows ingredients found in head lice products have been linked to behavioural difficulties in young children.
Research to determine whether prenatal or childhood exposure to pyrethroid, a group of synthetic chemical insecticides, has any impact on neurobehavioural development was performed by a team of French researchers. As a result of scientists believing that pyrethroids may alter neurochemical signalling in the brain, they assessed children’s behaviour, focusing particularly on selflessness.
Link has been found
Parents use products containing pyrethrin to help remove head lice from their child’s hair, but could they be unknowingly doing harm?
Although Occupational & Environmental Medicine haven’t established a causal relationship, they say they have found a link even at the low environmental doses encountered by the general public. This family of chemicals, works by damaging nerves and has been found in a wide range of products including head lice treatments, scabies creams, flea control for animals and mosquito repellents that parents use on their children.
According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) database, permethrin is an ingredient found in Johnson&Johnson’s ‘Lyclear Scabies Cream’, iNova’s ‘Pyrifoam Lice Breaker’, and Orion’s ‘Quellada Headlice Treatment’. In addition to these products, parent’s should also be checking their bathroom and chemical cupboards for: Banlice Mousse, Pyrenel Foam, Lice Breaker Pyrifoam Treatment, Orange Medic Plus, Quellada head lice treatment and Paralice Aerosol Spray.
“As with all of our medicines, we continuously monitor and welcome the latest scientific research that will improve the safety of our medicines.” says a Johnson&Johnson spokesperson.
New research finds…
The observational study required 287 mothers to answer a detailed questionnaire on socioeconomic factors, lifestyle and environmental exposures, in addition to their child’s behaviour.
Children underwent behavioural assessments at home by psychologists, while urine and dust samples were collected for analysis. Contrary to expectations, high levels of another type of pyrethroid found in the children’s urine sample were actually associated with a lowered risk of externalising behaviours. The researchers were not able to establish cause and effect as an observational study.
These finding are concerning for parents as these chemicals are not used used but also commonly found in urban households. Everyone is exposed to traces of pyrethroids, as products containing these chemicals are often found in the home and workplace. Given the outcome of this study, it leaves researchers questioning if children with behavioural problems (such as hyperactivity) might be somehow more exposed to pesticides. However as the study does not definitively prove this theory, there is not enough basis to restrict the use of pyrethroids.
Head lice treatments linked to behaviour in children – what now?
Researchers concluded that: “The current study suggests that exposure to certain pyrethroids at the low environmental doses encountered by the general public may be associated with behavioural disorders in children.”
The TGA is currently reviewing this new research to determine whether any action is required.
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