Traditional thinking says that to protect your children from developing asthma, you should keep a spotless house. Well, there’s good news for busy parents everywhere – current research contradicts old school thinking. In fact, babies who are the least likely to develop asthma by the age of four are those who have been exposed to the most dust.
Put Down the Duster!
So put away your dust mop, return that feather duster to its place in the cleaning closet, and sit down for a while. If you make that house of yours too clean and dust-free, you are actually increasing the chances that your children will become asthmatic. The reason? Although it is not entirely clear, the most likely answer is that exposure to the common microbes in dust, including fungal spores, may help children build a resistance to breathing disorders.
A generation ago, parents may have used the phrase, “it builds their immune systems” when their offspring was exposed to dust and dirt. “A little dirt never hurt anybody,” however, is not the mindset of most modern parents. We have become a generation of germ-phobes, disinfecting everything that is within reach of our children, especially when they are very young.
In the UK, the rate of asthma in children has quadrupled over the past 30 years. Although experts are not certain of the reason for this dramatic increase, there is speculation that environmental factors are likely culprits. Since older generations were exposed to more dirt and all of its micro-organisms than today’s children, they developed a stronger resistance to germs, making them more able to resist infection and illness. By sheltering our kids, we are, in a sense, denying their immune systems the opportunity to develop needed antibodies.
These findings apply to all children, both those considered low risk for developing asthma and those born to mothers who suffer from allergies, are asthmatic themselves, or even both. Such children would normally be thought to be at higher risk for developing breathing disorders than their peers. Modern research finds that in children who were regularly exposed to dust at an early age, the playing field is levelled. All children seem to benefit from this exposure.
In the latest research report, 855 mothers who themselves suffered from allergies and asthma, agreed to take part in a study performed at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. This study measured dust and microbial levels on their living room floors and in their children’s mattresses when the babies were three months old. Some of the families were then given mattress and pillow covers to protect the children against dust mites, while others were not. Physicians carried out annual checks on the children to report incidences of asthma and took blood samples at ages one and four to test for allergy antibodies. The study confirmed that the children exposed to the greatest levels of dust were those least likely to be asthmatic or wheezing at age four.
So what does this mean for you and your family? Although further research will certainly clarify the specific role that exposure to dust and all of its agents has on the respiratory health of our children, for now it seems safe to say that we can all relax a bit when it comes to worrying that our homes are clean enough.