Exposure to germs and dirt may lower babies’ allergy risk

girl and cat

girl and cat

Put down that antibacterial spray, give the vacuum cleaner a rest and let the cat back in. Exposing your baby to allergens and bacteria before their first birthday may actually help them avoid allergies and asthma, a new study says.

Researchers found that infants born into homes with a greater variety of bacteria or mouse, cockroach or cat dander in their first year showed lower rates of wheezing at age three. And children exposed to all three of those allergens, plus bacteria, benefited the most. The report says inner-city babies with the highest exposure to allergens and bacteria have the best chance of avoiding recurrent wheeze and allergic sensitisation – precursors to asthma and allergies.

Researchers studied children from homes in four US cities and say while older children who live in allergen or bacteria-rich environments have higher overall allergy and asthma rates, those in such homes in their first year may benefit.

Report co-author Robert Wood says: “The immune system develops very rapidly in the first months of life so it makes sense that the timing of exposures early in life could be the most important. We do feel that these results, especially those related to certain microbial exposures, do support the hygiene hypothesis.”

girl with asthma inhaler

Advocates of the hygiene hypothesis believe early exposure to infection, bacteria and parasites increases risk of allergy by suppressing the immune system’s natural development. Authors of the report, published by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, say their finding may prompt new preventative strategies for asthma and allergy.

Meanwhile, Australian experts are calling for a national allergy register to track fatalities and severe reactions. News Corp Australia reports at least six people have died from food allergy in the past eight years, the youngest a three-year-old boy, and none was seeing an allergy specialist. Support group Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia believes a national register would help capture the true extent of food allergy fatalities and severe reactions.

Australia has one of the world’s highest allergy rates, with about 30,000 Australian children developing a food allergy each year, according to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend