A new study indicates that popular rubber bath toys commonly used by infants and children may pose potential health risks, indicating that they may allow fungi and other microbes to grow inside of the toys, which can lead to eye and ear infections.
In a study published last week in the medical journal NPJ Biofilms and Microbiomes, researchers discovered several species of potentially harmful bacteria growing in childrens’ bath toys that can lead to infections of the eyes and ears.
Researchers tested 19 different bath toys in controlled conditions with both clean water prior to bathing and dirty water after bathing, and discovered a variety of microbes that remained inside of the rubber toys. The toys were examined after each use and were found to have notably higher levels of bacteria after each bath use, whether with clean tap water or after human use.
Inside the toys, researchers discovered bacteria such as Bradyrhizobium, Agrobacterium, Caulobacter, Sphingomonas, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a very common type of bacteria that typically results in symptoms of fever, chills, body aches, light-headedness, rapid pulse and breathing, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and decreased urination.
When comparing clean water bacterial presence to used bathwater bacterial presence, researchers found microbes on rubber bath toys in 58% of tests, and 100% in all toys after the bathwater was used.
Based on this comparison, researchers claimed the toy biofilms are influenced by several factors that could allow the presence of microbes to be present, including organic carbon leaching from flexible plastic metal, the chemical and biological tap water quality, nutrients from care products and human body fluids, and from additional bacteria from dirt or the end-users’ microbiome.
Ear infections in young children are very common, causing more than 2 million infections in American children each year. An ear infection is typically caused by the introduction of germs into the middle ear which causes inflammation of the inner, middle, or outer ear.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the only treatment for ear infections is watchful waiting and for the child to be examined every three to six months to be sure the fluid has dissipated, which can be a long and painful time for a child.
Rubber bath toys, particularly those with air holes that water can seep in to, pose a mold growth hazard, since the inside of the toy can be difficult to wash and dry completely, the researchers concluded. Mold spore exposure to infants can be extremely hazardous and result in rashes, gastrointestinal issues and respiratory issues.