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A little dirt won't hurt


September 2014

Babies and toddlers can cough, sneeze and wheeze through the allergy season just like adults. In fact, the first year of life is a critical period in the development of the immune system, and especially in the development of allergies and asthma. "The biggest risk seems to be your family history, because there is a genetic predisposition to allergy," says Dr. Melissa A.M. Hertler, director of the allergy program at Wheaton Franciscanís Sinus Care Institute in Wauwatosa.

The newest data seems to support the protective effect of exposure to some allergens and bacteria in the first year. "Thereís the theory that exposing children to certain things that cause allergies can help build their immune systems," Hertler says. "Studies have shown that children raised on farms have a lower risk of allergies and asthma because they have their immune systems stimulated a little more, while children raised in urban environments are at much higher risk."

According to the "Hygiene Hypothesis," thereís an increasing rate of allergies and asthma as a direct result of kidsí decreased exposure to bacteria because of our improved hygiene and cleanliness of our homes. "It appears that there may be a benefit to early exposure to some pet and rodent dander, and bacteria," Hertler says. "As practical advice to parents, it is prudent to avoid exposing your child to tobacco smoke or significant pollution, and although we donít know the exact combination of allergens and bacteria, a little dirt wonít hurt!"


This story ran in the September 2014 issue of: