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Childhood habits could decrease allergic reactions

JACKSON, Miss.- Biting nails and sucking thumbs are usually seen as bad habits among kids, but some experts say a recent study shows those habits could lead to less allergies. 

A study done by the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand says that those childhood habits could have added health benefits.

They looked at 1,000 New Zealand children from birth to adulthood and found that those who sucked their thumbs or bit their nails were less likely to develop allergic reaction in their adolescence, and in many cases those positive effects stayed with them into adulthood.

While the reason behind these benefits could not be explained experts developed a theory that many say could be the answer. It’s called the “hygiene hypothesis.” This theory suggests that exposure to bacteria and other microbes early in life would allow the immune system to develop an infection-fighting mode that would steer away from a tendency for allergic reactions.

Dr. Mika Hiramatsu, a pediatrician who reviewed the study, agreed with that hypothesis.

“This is another piece of evidence in support of the hygiene hypothesis,” she said. “I think this study adds weight to the idea that kids do better when they’re exposed to a variety of microbes, being in a sterile environment is not actually the best thing for us.”

Based on the children studied, 31 percent were either sucking their thumbs or biting their nails often between the ages of five and 11. Those children were a third less likely to develop allergic sensitization by the age 13 than their peers who did not do those things.

For more information on this study visit the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology’s website.

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