If you want to help your child have a healthy immune system, you may want to leave your house a little dirtier than you have been. A new study from the June 6 edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has found babies exposed to allergens and germs during their first year of life end up having a healthier immune system than those who don’t, and are less likely to have breathing issues as they grow older.
Infants who were exposed to allergens, germs and bacteria from such things as cats, roaches and rodents during their first year of life were able to develop a strong immunity to allergies, and they ended up suffering less from asthma and other types of wheezing as they grew older. The study suggests that exposure to allergens plays a vital role in helping the child to develop a healthy immune system with first year exposure being especially important. Infants who were exposed to the same allergens after their first year of life were less protected, and had less resistance to allergies than those exposed their first year.
Dr. Robert Wood who authored the study was stunned by the results because they were the opposite of what he was expecting to fine. His research was following up on a number of earlier studies which actually found an increased risk of asthma among those living in the city who were exposed to mouse, pet, and roach droppings and related allergens.
Instead, Dr Wood found that being exposed to these germs was essential to building immunity with the timing of the initial exposure being far more critical than anyone had previously believed. The study indicated that many of the immune responses we develop are shaped during the first year of our life. In addition, specific allergens in bacteria may very well play an important role in the stimulation and training of our immune systems to behave in certain ways later in life.
Those who aren’t exposed to common household allergens within the first year may not develop as strong an immunity as those exposed to them the first year of life. In fact, the more of the cat, roach and rodent dander the baby is exposed to their first year, the less likely the child was to develop allergies and wheezing.
According to the study, 41% of children who ended up being both allergy and wheeze-free came from homes where a large amount of allergens and bacteria were found. In contrast, less than 10% (8%) of children who suffered from bother allergies and wheezing were exposed to the same level of the allergens in their first year of life. The researchers also noted in background material supplementing the study that previous studies have found that children who grow up on farms are less likely to have allergies and asthma, possibly due to the increased likelihood of exposure to bacteria and microbes that comes with farm life.
There is a large financial aspect to this as well. Babies are already expensive. If early exposure to allergens can prevent allergies and asthma, that prevention can equate to thousands of dollars in savings for a family each year. According to statistics from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), asthma costs approximately $3,300 per person each year. That is savings of as much as $50,000 over the lifetime of the child if asthma can be prevented.
(Photo courtesy of Helene Samson)