When sickness may be good for kids
* Exposure to illness within the first six months of life may prevent allergies later
By Dana Desonie
Kids who attend daycare early, or who have more than one older sibling, may be healthier — in the long run, that is. A study conducted over nearly twenty years by researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson shows that exposure to illness within the first six months of life may decrease later problems with allergies, including asthma.
Researchers tracked 1,035 infants from birth. 21% of those with less exposure to other children developed asthma. The more socialized children had more problems with wheezing at age 2 but fewer problems at age 8 than the stay-at-home group. Wheezing in early childhood is usually caused by infections but in older children it is more often from allergies or asthma.
Scientists think it’s our sanitized world that may be the problem. The world we evolved in was dirty, full of disease-causing microbes. Early exposure to these microbes may give a child’s immune system something worth fighting, setting it on a lifetime of warding off disease. A child whose immune system does not get this early workout may later react against substances unnecessarily, resulting in an allergic reaction.
This idea, the hygiene hypothesis, is still controversial but does explain the skyrocketing asthma rates in industrial countries, rates that aren’t matched in other locations. —Studyworks