Common household chemicals can increase the risk of eczema in children, a new study says.

Eczema is term for a group of medical conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed or irritated. Eczema affects about 10% to 20% of infants and about 3% of adults and children in the U.S. The new study is of particular concern because the chemicals are used in common household things like artificial leather and vinyl flooring.

When a fetus is exposed to the chemical butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) chances of it developing eczema increase. In the study, 407 non-smoking pregnant women who were African-American or Dominican from New York were tested for BBzP exposure. Urine samples were taken from them when they were in their third trimester. Later, researchers found out that the risk of developing eczema by age two was increased by 52 percent in children whose mothers had high levels of BBzP in their urine than in children born to mothers who had lower levels of the chemical.

BBzP is part of a group of chemicals called phthalates which are used in a variety of consumer products like soaps, shampoos, building materials and plastic toys. Previous research has shown that exposure to phthalates is common in infants while another study found an association between phthalate exposure and asthma in children.

In this study, researchers had collected dust samples from homes of children who suffered from asthma. The researchers found that the concentration of BBzP was higher in the homes of children who had asthma than those who did not. Pthalates are also known to disrupt the human hormonal balance and reproduction system in adults.

"While hereditary factors, allergens, and exposure to tobacco smoke are known to contribute to the condition, our study is the first to show that prenatal exposure to BBzP is a risk factor," said Allan C. Just, PhD, first author of the study.

The researchers tested the children in the study group for allergic reactions towards common allergens like mites and dust and even for a common biomarker for allergic reaction IgE, but found no association between BBzP and allergy.

"We know allergies are a factor with some childhood eczema, but our data suggest that is not the case when BBzP is involved. However, these are important findings, given that eczema is a common and uncomfortable disease of early childhood," said Rachel Miller, MD, Director of the Allergy and Immunology fellowship program and senior author of the study.

The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.