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How to lower asthma and allergy risk in kids

Are allergies increasing in India? Much like other non-communicable diseases, this threat to health will soon grip middle and developing nations.

columns Updated: Jun 15, 2017 11:11 IST
Sanchita Sharma
(SIDDHANT JUMDE)

Are allergies going up or are more people being diagnosed with the disorder that causes incessant sneezing, wheezing, breathlessness, rash, runny nose, sinus pain, vomiting, and itchy eyes, ears, lips, throat and mouth.

There’s a definitive rise. There is no data for India, but US data shows that food allergies in children rose by 50% between 1997 and 2011. The increase is more marked in developed countries, but much like other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers, this threat to health will soon grip middle and developing nations.

Allergies are caused when the body’s immune system runs amuck and identifies harmless substances -- pollen, foods, medicines, dust, among others -- as a threat to health and produces as antibody reaction that triggers the release of histamines, which cause swelling, inflammation and itching. Allergic reactions can turn life-threatening when they involve the mouth or windpipe and cause choking.

Hygiene hypothesis

Why are allergies, including asthma, rising? Scientists blame it on multiple factors. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that children are growing up in an increasing sterile, germ-free environment that fails to train their immune system to differentiate between harmful and harmless irritants. This theory is supported by studies that show children who grown up in farms with animals have fewer allergies because of their increased exposure to the germ components endotoxins, which stimulate immune response and lower allergic inflammation. Other factors raising allergies is overuse of medicines such as paracetamol and antibiotics that alter bacterial flora in the gut (intestines), obesity and deficiency of vitamin D, which is essential for immune system and lung development.

Letting your child play with pets in the garden is a solution, as are the following scientifically-validated methods to lower your baby’s allergy risk.

The hygiene hypothesis suggests that children are growing up in an increasing sterile, germ-free environment that fails to train their immune system. (SIDDHANT JUMDE)

Keep a pet

Babies who grow up in homes with pets lower their risk of allergies and obesity because of changes in the good bacteria found in their gut. Exposure to dirt, bacteria and dander found in the animal’s fur, saliva and paws lowers asthma risk, reported a study from Canada. The study found that living with pets double the amounts of the gut bacteria Ruminoccocus and Oscillospira, both in a baby’s first three months of life and in the womb, where the mother’s exposure to pets transfers the good bacteria to her unborn child.

Choose a versatile menu

Babies who are not given cow’s milk, egg and peanuts during the first year of their life are likely to be sensitised to these foods, reported a study in Paediatric Allergy and Immunology. Apart from food allergies, sensitisation raises risk of other allergies such as wheezing, asthma, eczema (skin allergy) and allergic rhinitis (nasal secretion) in later childhood.

Babies not given cow’s milk in their first year of life were nearly four times as likely to be sensitised to cow’s milk and products compared to babies who were, while those not given eggs or peanuts doubled their risk of sensitivity to these foods. The study recommends that parents must give children milk and its products, eggs and peanuts within four and six months of age to lower allergy risk later on.

Give mums a Vit D boost

Giving mothers vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy can prevent their baby’s risk of developing asthma and respiratory infections, a known risk factor for childhood asthma, found a study from the UK in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study found that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy makes the baby’s immune system more robust to lower risk of allergies.

Breastfeed the baby

Breastfeeding a baby exclusively for four months after birth lowers their risk of developing asthma, skin allergies and allergic rhinitis by age two, found a study of more than 4,000 children in Sweden. Even partial breastfeeding for six months lowered asthma risk in children, 6.5 percent of who had three or more of five major allergic disorders -- asthma, rhinitis, skin allergy, food allergy and asthma.

Don’t smoke around children

Children whose mothers smoked during their pregnancy and after giving birth are at higher risk of respiratory allergies, found a study of 9,000 children across six cities in France. The risk to the child is greatest if the mother smoked and had allergies, with secondhand smoke exposure in the womb hitting the baby the hardest. Secondhand smoke raised the babies chances of developing asthma, dust and other respiratory allergies, but it did not raise their risk of food allergies.