Parents nowadays prefer their children to live in completely hygienic environments. They try to keep the environment around their children as clean as possible. But some researchers suggest that being exposed to the conditions which some people may call unclean is actually beneficial for children and they tend to suffer less from many conditions like asthma, hay fever, etc. This is also known as the hygiene hypothesis and it might hold the key to prevent Asthma early on.
Hygiene hypothesis was first introduced by David. P. Strachan in 1989. Strachan was an epidemiologist who found that children in larger households suffered less from asthma and hay fever because they were exposed to germs by their siblings. He researched further and found that children in smaller and cleaner households had more instances of asthma because they were exposed to pristine conditions and fewer bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Effect on the Immune System
The idea is simple. When a baby is inside the mother’s womb, the baby’s immune system is very weak as the baby is protected inside the womb. After delivery, this protection is lost. For the immune system to strengthen and work properly, the child must be exposed to germs.
Early childhood exposure of the immune system to germs will help in its stimulation which will further lead to the proliferation of immune cells (B-cells, T-cells, eosinophils, macrophages). Some of them will attack the infectious agent directly while others will potentiate immune attacks.
If there is any delay in early exposure of the immune system to normal as well as infectious bacteria, it will decrease the ability of the immune system to identify and respond towards the bacteria. In turn, there will be a weaker response of the immune system to suppress the inflammatory reactions when it is challenged.
This can also be considered a reason as to why children in developed countries suffer more from asthma than children in developing or underdeveloped nations. In the US alone, strict steps are taken to prevent Asthma, due to its prevalence in children.
Conflict & Balance
The hygiene hypothesis does not mean that children should be intentionally exposed to infectious agents by parents to stimulate an immune response. But children should not be kept isolated from other children or from the normal environment as it will not allow normal development of the immune system and may make children prone to infectious diseases like asthma and hay fever.
The conflict between cleanliness and exposure to germs may leave parents confused. There are certain microbes which may cause chronic infections in children such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), E. Coli, etc. So, parents must keep their household clean and hygienic but should also encourage their children to play outside with other children, even if they get dirty in the process. Hence, there will be a balance between cleanliness and exposure which will help the immune system to strengthen and prevent the child from infections.
The research has a number of significant impacts in improving immunity from a very young age in kids. The presence of an ultraclean environment may not be as beneficial to the health of little children as previously thought. As a result, little children must be encouraged to play outside of the home’s safe haven, so that the necessary amount of exposure to microorganisms can be achieved.