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Children's Health | Household Dust and Allergies in Children

Household Dust and Allergies in Children

The use of mattress covers on children’s beds, along with intensive education and assistance in dust-reduction measures in the home, prevents the development of allergies in children at high risk, according to a recent article in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (2002;156:1021–7).

Childhood allergies are a common and growing problem, and children who suffer from allergies frequently develop chronic allergic conditions, including asthma. In the United States, asthma is the most commonly diagnosed chronic disease of childhood, affecting nearly nine million children. Conventional medical management of childhood allergies and asthma includes the use of antihistamines, inhaled drugs that dilate the bronchial passages (bronchodilators), and inhaled and oral steroids. All of these medicines can have serious side effects, and a child’s likelihood of needing to continue treatment into adulthood is high. Antihistamines can affect the central nervous system, causing either overstimulation or sedation; bronchodilators can also stimulate the nervous system, causing anxiety and insomnia. Over long periods of time, inhaled steroids can damage the immune defenses of the respiratory system, leading to increased rates of infections, and oral steroids have negative effects on adrenal function and the entire immune system. For these reasons, preventive approaches should be pursued whenever possible.

According to some, but not all, studies, dust mite allergy is a predictor of asthma and other types of chronic allergies such as eczema. One previous study found that reducing the amount of dust in children’s home environments prevented the development of dust mite allergies. Another study found that the use of mattress covers effectively reduced dust mite exposure in the home. In the current study, the combined effect of mattress covers and intensive dust reduction measures on the development of dust mite allergies was evaluated.

The 566 European children who participated in this one-year study were between 18 months and five years of age. All had some allergy symptoms, such as asthma, hay fever, or eczema, but tests for dust mite allergy were negative. Each had at least one parent with allergy symptoms and positive results on the dust mite allergy test, putting these children at high risk for becoming allergic to dust mites themselves. The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Both groups’ parents received standard information about environmental influences on children’s health and recommendations for allergy prevention.

Recommendations for allergy prevention included avoiding exposure to pets in bedrooms, ventilating bedrooms well, avoiding cigarette smoke, and washing bedding and cleaning bedrooms regularly to minimize dust. In addition, parents of children in the intervention group were given more detailed dust-reduction instructions and assistance, and a mattress cover to prevent dust accumulation on children’s beds. The children were evaluated for allergy symptoms after six months, and tests for dust mite allergies were repeated after one year. The percentage of children who had developed allergies to dust mites by the end of the trial was 6.5% in the group that received standard instructions, compared with only 3% in the intervention group.

The results of this study add to a growing body of evidence that preventing exposure to house dust mites may significantly reduce the development of dust mite allergies, and therefore might decrease the incidence of childhood allergies and asthma. These measures should be recommended in conjunction with other allergy prevention approaches that have been shown to be effective. For example, observational studies have shown a 30 to 50% reduction in childhood asthma in those who receive exclusive breastfeeding for three months. Several studies have demonstrated a protective effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids. Restricting allergenic foods in the diets of nursing mothers and infants has been shown to prevent some types of allergies. Controlled trials have shown that probiotic supplements (which support the growth of healthy gut bacteria) and hydrolyzed milk formulas (in which potentially allergenic proteins are broken down to smaller, non-allergenic sizes) reduce allergies and asthma in infants. The cumulative effect of these preventive measures remains to be evaluated.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

Copyright © 2003 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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