A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical
Immunology suggests early daycare attendance may protect high-risk
infants from later developing asthma.
The study examined the
relationship between the age at which daycare begins and the amount
of immunoglobulin E in a child's blood. IgE is an antibody produced
by the immune system that serves as an indicator of allergic
"Everybody's bodies have the
potential to create these antibodies," explains Dr. Annie Khuntia,
a clinical associate professor in the section of pediatric allergy
and immunology at the University of Chicago. "The higher the IgE
level, the greater the risk and severity of the
Asthma is a chronic disease of
the airways that makes breathing difficult. There is a strong
genetic component; family history of asthma is the strongest risk
factor for a child.
But environment can play a role,
The study found that high-risk
children-kids with the genetic piece who should have had the
highest levels of the antibody-who went to daycare by 3 months old
had lowered IgE levels. Children who attended daycare had lower
levels than those whose daycare was at home or who didn't attend
daycare at all.
"We live in such an extremely
clean society that our bodies aren't being exposed to all of the
germs that should naturally strengthen our immune systems," Khuntia
says. "The response is that the body stimulates the allergic part
of the immune system."
Putting a child in daycare can
expose them to viruses and bacteria.
The finding "suggests that
multiple environments earlier in life may be beneficial … and that
being exposed to more germs and bacteria seems to be the key,"
The 'why' is still unknown. "It's
important to note this was only found to be beneficial in high-risk
kids with a family history," stresses Khuntia. So know your family
history and look for early signs and symptoms such as persistent
coughing, shortness of breath and crying or getting upset often,
which can lead to coughing and shortness of breath.
Khuntia also encourages all
parents, but especially those with a genetic predisposition to
allergies and asthma, to minimize exposures to non-specific
irritants such as cigarette smoke.
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