Allergies-Understanding Causes and Risks

The incidence of allergic rhinitis seems to be increasing every year, among both infants and adults. Most doctors will simply treat the symptoms, but it’s important to look more closely at some of the underlying causes, and how you can prevent allergies from affecting your quality of life.

Benefits of pets, siblings, and farms

To look at this question, researchers questioned 8,486 adults, aged 20 to 40, from 13 countries, about their childhoods and their current respiratory health. After nine years, the study participants completed these questionnaires again and also were asked whether and when they developed nasal allergies or hay fever.

After taking into account other things that may affect allergies, including family history of allergies and whether their parents smoked, the researchers identified several childhood factors linked with later developing allergies:

  • Contact with children, either siblings or in daycare, decreased the risk of developing allergies.
  • The more siblings a person had, the lower his or her likelihood of developing rhinitis.
  • Sharing a bedroom with an older sibling was protective against developing allergies.
  • Having pets in the home or living on a farm as a child significantly decreased the likelihood of developing allergies.
  • Having a mother who smoked while they were in utero and when they were a child increased allergy risk.
  • Women had fewer allergies than men as kids, but more allergies as adults.

The balance between clean and not-so-clean

Some of these results may be surprising because they suggest that childhood exposure to more “dirt and germs” can keep allergies at bay. On the other hand, other studies suggest that for children growing up in urban environments, being exposed to urban pests such as cockroaches may increase allergy and asthma risk. Read on for tips on finding the right “balance of clean” to keep your family healthy.

  • If your child has been begging for a pet, don’t let the “dirt and germ factor” dissuade you. Of course, only consider adding a pet to your family if you know you can care for it properly, and pick one that fits your lifestyle. For example, cats tend to be lower maintenance than dogs.
  • Periodically taking your child out to a farm to see where our food comes from is a terrific learning experience, and it may just offer the added benefit of reducing your child’s risk of developing allergies.
  • Some parents of kids who have to share bedrooms feel they aren’t giving their kids the best of everything. But having siblings share a bedroom may be one of the best ways to allergy-proof your little ones.
I also recommend blood testing to identify potential environmental and food allergies, as this can also help to narrow down treatment options, making it more likely that you’ll experience longer term relief from hay fever symptoms.
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