Asthma is evidently one of the common diseases found in children, as it affects around 1 in every 11 child. It is widely known that children dwelling in impoverished regions are prone to the condition and worse incidences of asthma as compared to those who are brought-up in better living conditions and high-income zones. However, the cause of this increased risk of incidences in children belonging to the lower sector is not yet confirmed.
A recent study published by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, released in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, has a different story to tell – something that is slightly disheartening but can be hopeful.
The study was done on 467 children including newborns to as old as 3 years infants, with considerable risk of developing asthma. These children belonged to region where 20% of people fall below the poverty level and had parent with allergic issues and asthma. These kids were evaluated for certain allergies such as egg allergy, sensitivity to milk, peanuts, mice, etc. Experts also examined the bacteria present in dust retrieved from 104 homes of associated children.
Studies indicated that children who were subjected to a perfect collection of bacteria and allergens, such as cat and mouse dander or cockroach droppings, had lesser wheezing rates when they where 3 years old and only if they were exposed to these allergens within their first 12 months of life. Experts elucidate that recurring wheezing is not asthma, but it may develop into asthma when the child reaches his 6th or 7th year of life – moreover only 60% of such vulnerable children develop the condition.
Dr Peter Gergen, who worked on the research, from National Institute of Health says, “Exposure to allergens early on isn’t necessarily associated with the development of asthma, it’s once you become sensitized to them and develop an allergy against them, then it makes your asthma much worse. There’s still no definite answer for what causes it”.
The outcomes of the research give credibility to what is called as ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ and the practice of introducing bacteria initially in life. This study is a novel research and first of its kind, which focuses on effect of bacteria-allergen exposure in amalgamation with each other. Another notable finding was that children who were allergy-free and wheeze-free belonged to households with highest level of allergens and richest set of species of bacteria. Around 41% of such low risk children belonged to such below-poverty households. Only 8% of kids affected with wheezing and allergy were exposed to such allergens and bacterial species in the first year of their life.
This may sound weird, but it simply narrows down to – ‘Higher the number and exposure to bacteria and dander, lesser number of sick children’. One should also consider the time of exposure to such allergens. Robert Wood, MD and author of the study, explains that the timing of initial exposure is extremely crucial. He says “What this tells us is that not only are many of our immune responses shaped in the first year of life, but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way”.
Robert Woods also explains that parents need not run to pet stores to get cockroach farms. He says that one need not necessarily have cats and mice dander around in the house. Having a dog as a pet and considerably acceptable level of dust can do the trick. One should also know that it is not a certain allergen or quantity, but it is the amalgamation of bacteria and allergen.
Experts are continuously following children who were evaluated in the study and they have grown to be around 7 years old now. Experts expect to confirmedly understand who out of these children develop asthma, during next year. If study confirms that allergen-bacteria combination is the key to lower asthma risk, then it might pave the way for better prognosis and alteration of environmental factors that may help in reducing asthma risk.
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