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Child Allergy

Children are among the fastest growing segment of allergy sufferers. While child allergies is a broad category and the debate over causes continues, once your child is diagnosed, there are a variety of things you can do to prevent allergic reactions and better control your child's environment.
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More Information On Child Allergy

Why do some children develop allergies? As with nearly every human trait, there is a genetic component and an environmental component. If both parents have allergies, there's a good chance that their child will develop allergies. Since we cannot control genetics, we focus on the same things as with adult allergies - our environment.

Hygiene Hypothesis

One popular theory behind the environmental side of allergies, the "hygiene hypothesis," states that a lack of early childhood exposure to germs increases the likelihood of developing allergic disease. As a young immune system develops, it must learn what to attack and what to leave alone. Pollen, for instance, does not present a threat to the body; however, some children become sensitive to pollen because, according to the hygiene hypothesis, their immune system did not have a chance to develop properly.

Children who grow up in ultra-clean environments and never "play in the dirt" do appear to be at greater risk of developing allergies and asthma; though research continues to complicate and challenge this theory. On the other hand, children who grow up on farms have shown less tendency to develop allergic diseases. Other researchers suggests that a lack of sunlight plays a role in the development of allergies, particularly food allergies and skin conditions like eczema.

Chemical Exposure

Because there are so many variables, there is no single study that definitively shows hygiene to be a cause of allergy development. As research continues, factors like chemical exposure from pregnancy through childhood also seems to be playing a more prominent role in our understanding. From food preservatives to the ingredients in cleaning products and plastics, the chemicals that factor into daily life appear to be impacting us on a variety of levels.

Does any of this mean that you should stop cleaning your child's room, or send him or her to live in the backyard? Of course not! But your child would likely benefit by spending more time outdoors in nature, playing in the dirt, exercising, and breathing in fresh air. Over the past 50 years, not only have we started spending more time indoors, but our buildings have also changed. Homes and offices now have extremely tight seals for energy efficiency. These tight seals trap pollutants inside, creating stale indoor air that's ten to a hundred times more polluted than outdoor air. This is also where theories about chemical exposure gain more traction. From chemicals in the foods we eat to the furniture in our homes, there are a myriad of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis.

While the exact cause of allergic disease is elusive, it's important for children to play outdoors, but it's also equally important to keep some things out of your child's environment, if for no other reason than to reduce or eliminate reactions. Conditions are often managed with medication, but avoidance remains one of the best ways to provide relief without side effects.