Exposing Babies to Dust and Dander Might Prevent Asthma and Allergies

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A new study out of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has discovered that babies who are exposed to bacteria and allergens may actually be less likely to develop allergies or asthma — compared to children who weren’t exposed until after they turned one.


Researched tracked the health more than 450 babies in four U.S. cities over a three-year span. They also measured the allergen levels in their homes, and analyzed the bacteria in the dust lurking in many of those residences. When the children turned three, the researchers discovered the ones who had grown up in a home with exposure to allergens from mice, cats, dogs, dust mites, and (ew) cockroaches wheezed significantly less than those children who weren’t exposed.

Only 17 percent of “exposed” children experienced wheezing, whereas 51 percent of “non-exposed” children experienced wheezing. In fact, the more the children were exposed to, the less likely they were to develop environmental allergies or asthma.

Don’t throw away your broom and toss the antibacterial wipes just yet. Letting your home get overrun with dust and, uh, cockroach droppings won’t necessarily mean your child won’t develop asthma or allergies. But the study is making headlines because of the researchers’ claims that a child’s exposure during their first months of life can dramatically shape their body’s immune response. Researchers explained that even being exposed as a one-year-old or two-year-old doesn’t seem to have the same effect as a newborn being exposed.

Although previous studies have shown that children who live in homes with high levels of allergens and pollutants have an increased risk of asthma and environmental allergies, this new study points to the fact that children exposed as babies seem to built up a stronger immunity. It makes sense, because previous studies have also shown that kids who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates because of their exposure to microorganisms in farm soil.

Hmm, maybe this means we can lay off the hand vac a little? H/T to e! Science News

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

6 Comments to Exposing Babies to Dust and Dander Might Prevent Asthma and Allergies

  1. Rebecca

    Interesting! I would love to see them follow more babies for a follow-up study. It’s a rather small pool to base their conclusions on. Thanks for posting about this!

    • Agreed, Rebecca! I expect in the next 3-5 years, we’ll be seeing a lot more studies on babies and children with allergies, asthma, and eczema.

  2. Megan

    This makes sense to me. Immunity is something that builds up over time. If you aren’t exposed, how can you become immune?

    • Exactly, Megan! I think it’s especially interesting that exposure seems so important during that first year of life.

  3. cathy dodge

    This may be one possible explanation why my first born has asthma, allergies ect and my two others dont. The first one was brought home to my parents impeccably clean home for his first few years. The other two to my much less impeccable house!

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