Early Exposure to Allergens

Chances are an older person in your life – family member, neighbor, stranger in the check-out line – commented that parents keep things too clean these days. You may have even heard them say at some point, “Sometimes you just have to let kids eat a little dirt.”

Well, turns out there may be some truth to that.

Recent research on asthma and allergies from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health uncovered some interesting findings centered around children being exposed to allergens early in life.

Asthma

Previous studies found that reducing allergens in the home – dust and animal dander, for example – helps to control asthma. But new research suggests that exposure early in life to those same allergens before asthma develops may actually help prevent asthma from developing.

More than eight percent of children in the U.S. currently have asthma. This can result in missed time from school and is a major cause of emergency department visits and hospitalizations. And it tends to occur more often in kids from urban areas. When researchers looked at children from homes that had higher concentrations of cockroach, mouse and cat allergens present in dust samples, fewer had asthma by the age of 7.

Allergies

In a different research study involving two researchers from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, children who were exposed to allergens in a farm environment were found to have less allergies and wheezing. When compared to infants not born in a farm setting, infants born into a dairy farm had less severe respiratory illnesses during the first two years of life. Children raised on farms also experienced less hay fever and eczema.

While more research is needed to understand what bacteria are actually responsible for the decrease in allergies and in asthma, the findings do suggest that living in a spotless environment may not actually be healthy for kids.

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