Photo: Ian Lamont (Flickr)
Doctors are urging parents to expose their kids to more potential allergens such as dust mites and cat hair as a way to build up their immunity to allergies later in life.
Dr. Emma McCormack, an allergist with Allergy and Asthma of Southern Indiana in Bloomington, says that was the talk of the 70th annual Allergy Convention in Baltimore this past weekend.
“It’s disseminating into all the literature that early exposure is actually going to be more helpful to delay the onset of allergies. So the sooner the better,” she says.
The recommendations are coming on the heels of several studies, including Indianapolis allergy doctor Mark Holbreich’s, that indicate exposure to potential allergens is good for children.
Two years ago Holbreich conducted a study and found Amish children in Northern Indiana have significantly fewer allergies than children living in the suburbs. The reason, according to Holbreich, is essentially because they grew up on farms.
“If the mother is working in the barn, around the animals and all the feed when she is pregnant, and then she breastfeeds the child, and the mother’s drinking raw milk- all of those seem to be factors in reducing the risk of allergies,” Holbreich says.
Through ongoing research, he hopes to find ways to prevent allergies in children from more modern environments.
“Have the Amish something that we don’t have? Or have we gained something that they never had? I think that’s kind of the question. Maybe our bodies weren’t intended to live in such a clean environment,” Holbreich says.
But Indiana University Professor of Clinical Medicine Frederick Leickly says studies like Holbreich’s, are missing one big thing: attention to symptoms. Holbreich’s research, for example, focuses on skin-prick blood tests—which are notorious for overestimating allergy rates.
“You have to have symptoms to be allergic. A positive test or a positive blood test, only says that you’re making an antibody,” Leickly says.
According to Leickly, research focused on the symptoms of those living in the inner city might shed light on the issue. He says that’s because certain urban communities are exposed to just as many microbes, but those microbes stem from things like rats and cockroaches, rather than cows and pigs.
“The value of any allergy test is just as important as the story that backs it up. The allergists’ skills are in knowing how to take a good history, knowing what the cause and effect relationships are- knowing what the pollens and molds are, what the exposures are that lead to those symptoms,” Leickly says.