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New Study Says That Early Allergen Exposure Can Decrease Risk of Allergies and Asthma Forming

Is there such a thing as too clean? According to researchers at the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, parents should consider holding back on the antibacterial wipes when it comes to preparing their homes for a new baby.

The comprehensive study, conducted in Boston, New York, St. Louis and Baltimore, followed 467 newborns until they were three years old. Researchers tested both the levels of bacteria and allergen levels in their homes, and noted how the babies were responding, in terms of wheezing and allergy development.

The research findings suggested that, contrary to popular belief, early exposure to allergens and bacteria actually strengthens a child’s immune system, and prevents the wheezing and asthma that can be later induced by dust and allergen exposure.

The surveyed elements the babies were exposed to, which were cat dander, mouse dander, and cockroach droppings, were shown to actually have a positive impact on the immune systems of studies infants. The study additionally indicated that the reaction was additive. In other words, infants exposed to these environmental allergens from a young age actually had healthier immune systems than infants who came into contact with only one allergen. Wheezing, for example, was three times as prevalent among children who hadn’t been exposed to the full trio of allergens during their first year of life.

According to Johns Hopkins, the findings reinforce earlier studies, which have shown that children who are raised on farms, and are exposed to more soil microorganisms, have correspondingly lower rates of asthma and allergy development. Collectively, the studies also emphasize a key finding that timing is everything. Exposure during the first year of life is critical for developing immune systems. After this point, exposure to high levels of allergens exacerbate asthma, allergies and wheezing, rather than hindering them. For this reason, parents should concentrate on reducing the level of harmful bacteria found around older children. Earlier research has shown that sponges often harbor large numbers of bacteria, and should be boiled at least once a week.

“This tells us that… many of our immune responses [are] shaped in the first year of life,” said study author Robert Wood, adding that, “Certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way.” The findings are of significant interest to pediatricians, as asthma is one of the most common pediatric illnesses, currently affecting over 7 million U.S. children.

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