Could there be a link?
A new study has been published this month that puts water quality and the skin of infants under the microscope. Dr. Carsten Flohr and his team at King's College London presented the results of their population-based study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Researchers involved about 1,300 three-month old babies from across the UK in this study. They looked specifically at the level of calcium carbonate in the water, which is a measure of water hardness. The level of chlorine in the family's water supply was also taken into consideration, as was the use of bathing products, and how regularly the infants were bathed.
The infants were then examined for the presence of childhood eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. The natural barrier of their skin was also examined; infants were screened for the FLG gene which is associated with a compromised skin barrier.
What they found was striking.
The study found that hard water is linked to an 87 percent increased risk of eczema for babies of three months of age.
"Our study builds on growing evidence of a link between exposure to hard water and the risk of developing eczema in childhood. It's not yet clear whether calcium carbonate has a direct detrimental effect on the skin barrier, or whether other environmental factors directly related to water hardness, such as the water's pH, may be responsible." Dr Carsten Flohr said.
And the study, thankfully, doesn't end there.
Dr. Flohr will be examining these results further, with a new study in the works. This subsequent study is due to commence later this year and the question they will be seeking to answer is whether a device to lower water hardness in households will have any effect on the skin of infants.
If a device is introduced into a household when a baby is born, will the risk of eczema developing reduce?
For those with babies or children suffering, this could be the news you have hoped for. Eczema is a painful condition; any relief would be welcome.
The Association between Domestic Water Hardness, Chlorine and Atopic Dermatitis Risk in Early Life: A Population-Based Cross-Sectional Study. Michael R. Perkin, PhD, Joanna Craven, MPH, Kirsty Logan, PhD, David Strachan, MD, Tom Marrs, BM BS, Suzana Radulovic, MD, Linda E. Campbell, BSc, Stephanie F. MacCallum, MSc, W.H. Irwin McLean, DSc, Gideon Lack, MD, Carsten Flohr, PhD on behalf of the EAT Study Team. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. DOI:10.1016/j.jaci.2016.03.031. Published online April 28, 2016.
Sarah Bell is a writer based in Seoul.
You can find out more about her at www.themscript.com.