Over the years kids have become allergic to more and different allergens, but now some doctors believe it could be the parents' fault.
A Johns Hopkins University study links the increase in allergies to kids too often slathering on anti-bacterial soaps and gels. Some doctors said it may be that parents are making sure their babies are too clean.
Parents are recommended to use soap and water on their children, but not anti-bacterial products. Keeping a child germ free by wearing masks and gloves and changing gloves often also is a problem.
"If you wipe too much of the attackers out, then our immune system switches to more of an allergic type," said Dr. Chitra Dinakar, an allergist at Children's Mercy Hospital. "So fighting the germs and bacteria is actually good for your immune system to be healthy and maintain a balance."
Dr. Emmanuel Sarmiento, an allergist at Greenville's Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in South Carolina, said he's seen a remarkable increase in allergies among children. He thinks it's linked to the "hygiene hypothesis," which the Johns Hopkins study supports.
"What we're talking about here is overzealous cleanliness, overuse of hand sanitizer, or overuse of anti-microbial soaps," Sarmiento said. "The lack of exposure [to germs and bacteria] can make your immune system overactive and you'll make or produce a lot of antibodies against the allergens, like the pollen, or food, or let's say, pet danders."
The study took almost 900 kids between 6 and 16 and measured a chemical found in antibacterial soaps in their urine. Researchers discovered that the kids with the higher level of the chemical had more allergies.
Tender Hearts Daycare director Mary Highman said the children at the Kansas City, KS, daycare are taught to wash carefully with soap and water. She said anti-bacterial soap can cause reactions in those with food or skin allergies.
"It causes more conflict with their skin and the rashes," Highman said.
Food allergies have increased almost 20 percent since 1997, with one in five kids having allergies.
"A dirty child is a happy child is what we see here," Highman said. "We tend to let the children play and be themselves. But we do incorporate the hand washing. We do stay on top of that."
South Carolina pediatrician, Dr. Justin Moll, is nervous the study may have people questioning their cleanliness habits. He stresses that washing hands with traditional soap and water is safe, effective and necessary to stop from spreading germs that could spread sickness.
The Centers for Disease Control outlines the best time to wash hands without over-doing it. These times include after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, handling pet food or waste, before or after being sick or caring for someone who's sick, and before or after working with or eating food.
Moll and Sarmiento agree that it's important to let kids be kids because the bacteria they touch doing everyday things is good for their immune system.
Sarmiento said being "germ free" and using too much antibacterial soap and sanitizer could backfire.
"It's a delicate balance of cleanliness and overusing it and it may cause problem in your immune system," Sarmiento said.
He said allergies can be preventable, but only at a very young age. He said when babies are exposed to germs, their bodies create a protective antibody against them. If kids are not exposed as a baby through the time they're 2 or 3, which means, parents keep them too overly clean, their bodies will switch to create a hyperactive antibody toward those germs. That's what is commonly called allergies.
"If you're born genetically that you are susceptible to be allergic, if you turn the switch, no turning back. Even if you stop cleaning, there's no turning back," Sarmiento explained.
Now it's up to parents and child-care providers to keep tabs on the allergy increase.
Sarmiento said not to believe anti-bacterials are better and to stick with plain soap and water. He said if kids do have allergies, try to avoid the allergens, but there are also some medications to control allergic reactions. He said if allergies are unavoidable, kids can receive vaccines to strengthen immunity and cure the allergy.
Copyright 2012 KCTV and WHNS (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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