Can Sunscreen Sprays Trigger Asthma?

It’s a ritual many parents and their kids undergo almost daily in South Florida — applying or spraying sunscreen to protect kids from overexposure.

But are the spray versions of popular sunscreens causing respiratory issues and triggering asthma attacks?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating the potential risk of spray sunscreens, especially with children who may accidentally inhale the ingredients.

While the FDA has not issued any bans or restrictions as of yet, a leading publisher and reviewer of commonly sold products,, has recommended that people stop using spray sunscreens on children until the FDA reaches a conclusion. Pediatricians, as well, are telling parents to stop using the sprays, especially if their kids are asthmatic.

“It’s well known that fumes and certain inhaled chemicals, such as those in cleaning products, can irritate and trigger asthma attacks,” said Judith Lederhandler, M.D., a pediatrician and member of the Baptist Health Quality Network. “Parents should use sunscreen lotion instead of sprays anyway because you can cover the skin more extensively with lotions. They should not take a chance with sunscreen sprays.”

Asthma is a disease that mostly affects the lungs. It causes repeat episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing. But asthma can be controlled by taking medicine, including inhalers, and by avoiding common asthma “triggers.”

Don’t Use on Children: Consumer Reports
“Don’t use sprays on children, unless you have no other product available,” Consumer Reports says. “In that case, spray the sunscreen onto your hands and rub it on. As with all sunscreens, be especially careful on the face, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.”

For adults, the organization advises that you spray the liquid on your hands and then apply to the body.

For parents of asthmatic children, it’s important to consult with the family pediatrician about the use of sunscreen sprays. Children may already be allergic to other aerosol sprays commonly used in the household.

More Children Being Diagnosed With Asthma
Asthma is a leading chronic illness among children and adolescents in the U.S. Kids diagnosed with asthma make up a growing demographic.

While more children are being treated for asthma, no one is sure why it has become more prevalent, Dr. Lederhandler said. Moreover, there is reluctance by some doctors to diagnose the condition.

“It is underdiagnosed,” Dr. Lederhandler said. “I think doctors often don’t call it asthma— they call it recurrent bronchitis, hyperactive airways or something else. Sometimes they are responding to the parents, who are afraid of the word asthma. But you need to diagnosis it to treat it properly.”

Asthma medicines, which can be inhaled or taken as a pill,  can provide both quick relief and long-term control of the condition.

Asthma is also one of the top reasons parents keep their kids home from school.  On average, in a classroom of 30 children, about three are likely to be diagnosed with asthma.

Common ‘Triggers’
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a child’s asthma triggers can be very different from adults with the disease.

The CDC says that some of the most common triggers are:

  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Dust mites.
  • Outdoor air pollution.
  • Cockroach allergen.
  • Pets.
  • Mold.
  • Smoke from burning wood or grass.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Some medications.
  • Infections, such as the flu or colds.
  • Burning incense or candles.
  • Weather, such as thunderstorms or high humidity; breathing in cold, dry air.
  • Some foods, food additives and fragrances.
  • Strong emotions can lead to very fast breathing, called hyperventilation, which can also cause an asthma attack.
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