Here’s good news for parents – thumb sucking and nail biting can prevent allergies

Nothing drives a parent to despair more than persistent thumb-suckers or nail-biters. And even if you’re not bothered by these bad habits, odds are that grandparents and even complete strangers will tut-tut and offer all sorts of unwanted advice.

Well, here’s some good news. You can tell all the busy-bodies and advice-givers to take a hike because a new study has found that children who still suck their thumb or bite their nails beyond age five may actually be reducing their risk of developing allergies.

The research shows that exposure to germs as a child through constantly having fingers in their mouth may actually help prompt their immune system to fight disease rather than develop allergies.

The findings, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, came after researchers looked at results from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

Evidence was drawn from the ongoing study of 1037 children born between 1972 and 1973 in the New Zealand coastal town of Dunedin and tested throughout their lives to the age of 38.

Kids who sucked their thumbs or bit their nails were less likely to have positive allergic skin tests as they grew up, and those with both so-called ‘bad habits’ fared even better.

Thumbs Out

The idea for the study came from Stephanie Lynch, a Dunedin School of Medicine student, who wanted to look at the link between children who put their fingers in their mouths and allergic sensitisation.

It followed on from previous thoughts there was a link between developing asthma, eczema and allergies and a lack of exposure to various microbes in childhood.

Other factors contributing to these conditions were ruled out by researchers in the controlled study, eliminating things such as pets and parent’s allergies from the equation.

While the thumb sucking and nail biting helped prevent allergies, the study found there was no big change in the chance of developing asthma or hay fever.

The study concedes thumb-sucking can still be considered a problem, particularly for older children, if it causes infection on the fingers, damages the teeth or leads to a child being teased.

Other studies have also pointed to ways we can instil good habits with our little ones from eating healthy in front of them to encouraging them to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

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