Babies Exposed to Allergens and Bacteria May Have Less Allergies as Children

First Posted: Jun 08, 2014 09:39 PM EDT

Want to keep your child from wheezing? Then exposing them to a little dirt may not be such a bad thing. Scientists have found that exposure to specific combinations of allergens and bacteria within the first year of life may actually protect children from wheezing and allergic disease.

In this latest study, the researchers wanted to identify the factors responsible for asthma development in children from inner-city settings. An inner-city environment is known for having higher rates of disease that's more prevalent and severe.

During early life, recurrent wheezing and sensitivity to common allergens are risk factors for developing asthma. That's why the researchers measured the frequency of wheezing episodes and levels of exposure to five common inner-city allergens-cat, cockroach, dog, dust mite and mouse.

So what did they find? Surprisingly, it turns out that exposure to cockroach, mouse and cat during the first year of life was associated with a lower risk of recurrent wheezing by age three. These findings show that early exposure may actually prevent problems later in life.

That's not all the scientists found, either. In a smaller study, the researchers tested whether bacteria, measured in house dust, could also influence asthma risk. They found that, surprisingly, children with no wheezing or sensitivity to allergens at age three were more likely to have encountered high levels of allergens and a greater variety of bacteria during their first year of life.

The findings reveal that early-life exposure to high bacterial diversity may actually protect children. More importantly, it shows that it's not necessarily a bad thing when children are exposed to bacteria and allergens while still young. In fact, some exposure may be good for children in the long run, and may help prevent the development of asthma in the future.

The findings are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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