Exposure To Household Germs May Cut A Baby's Allergy And Asthma Risk, Says Study

Sorcha Szczerbiak

It's understandably difficult for many parents to stop hovering anxiously over their infants, constantly trying to keep them from encountering household germs. However, if you're looking for a good excuse not to be such a "helicopter parent," a Johns Hopkins study might provide it.

Findings recently published in the Journal Of Allergy And Clinical Immunology claim that when youngsters are exposed to household germs associated with things like like dirt, dust, and pet allergens before the age of one, they are less likely to be diagnosed with things like allergies and asthma later in life.

Researchers examined more than 450 inner-city infants over a three-year period. All the subjects resided in either St. Louis, Boston, or New York. In addition to studying the health of the participants and conducting allergy tests on them, scientists turned to their residences and took samples of household germs.

What the data showed may surprise you: The kids who were completely allergy-free were the most likely to grow up in homes that had the largest amount of household germs. Additionally, when household germs came from animal sources such as cockroach droppings and cat dander, children were less likely to develop problems with wheezing by the time they reached age three.

As for the kids who did develop both allergies and asthma by the end of the study, only eight percent of them were exposed to the same kinds of household germs described above.

These findings about household germs affecting the likelihood of developing problems with allergies or asthma later support earlier studies suggesting that youngsters who live on farms or grow up with pets don't become asthmatic or sensitive to allergens as readily as peers who do not have that exposure to pet-related household germs.

In a press release that was cited within a Healio article, researcher Robert Wood clarified, "What this tells us is not only that many of our immune responses are shaped in the first year of life, but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way."

The results of this study about household germs also lend credibility to the so-called "hygiene hypothesis," which suggests the reason why allergies are so much more prevalent now than in past generations is because kids are kept in environments that are too sterile, which in turn doesn't for the proper development of immunity.

So, there you have it. If this analysis of the effects of household germs has merit, letting your infant get a little dirty outdoors while playing with the dog doesn't have to be a reason to get anxious or suffer from heart palpitations.

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