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Fact vs. Fiction: Preventing Child Allergies

Some old wives’ tales have only become more absurd as our understanding of science and medicine continues to improve. The “five second rule” is generally not observed as a truth among adults, and it’s taken about as seriously as the notion that chewing gum can stick to the stomach for seven years.

In our adulthood, many of these tales are easy to debunk as myth. Others have remained, often because they contain tiny nuggets of truth that have been misinterpreted or practiced at home without noticeable effect.

Immunology is no stranger to these ideas, especially when it comes to children. There are claims that keeping children indoors in a completely sanitized space will protect their immune systems and prevent the development of allergies, or that feeding your child raw honey will lower their seasonal allergies or desensitize them to local pollen.

Here are the facts: By shielding children from dust, dirt and bacteria, we’re limiting their exposure to allergens that can help strengthen their young immune systems. We tend to keep our children so clean that we actually encourage allergies to develop. This doesn’t mean children shouldn’t wash their hands—they absolutely should. Just take it easy on the bleach and hand sanitizer.

It might seem to make sense, according to that logic, that by feeding our children local, unprocessed honey, we’re exposing them to pollen that may aggravate allergies later in life. While this belief is based on a nugget of truth, it is an imprecise practice. Feeding your child local, raw honey will expose their immune systems to all sorts of local pollen—certainly flowers, and possibly pollen from area trees and grasses—but what type and how much will almost always be a toss-up. One surefire way to expose your child to these allergens is an allergy shot, a simple immunology treatment many of our patients at Sinus & Allergy Wellness Center receive in the form of an allergy drop that goes under the tongue.

If home remedies are what you’re looking for, medically-studied natural allergy solutions have been proven effective--especially for pregnant and new mothers who want to take a proactive approach to strengthening their child’s immune system. One of these solutions is a simple fish oil supplement.

According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, fish oil supplements taken by pregnant mothers can reduce their child’s sensitivity to certain allergies. Children who participated in the study saw a 20.7% drop in egg allergen sensitivity if their mothers had taken fish oil supplements while pregnant.

These children, the study’s authors note, were “consistently less likely” to experience recurrent wheezes, coughs, asthma diagnoses, food allergies, angioedema and anaphylaxis, and had “significantly less severe disease.” A six-year follow-up concluded that these symptoms and diseases were not statistically significant, though children involved in the study did show a reduction in sensitivity to house dust mites.

These findings were expanded in a separate study on postnatal fish oil supplementation, published  in 2012. That study’s authors concluded fish oil supplements contain “immunomodulatory properties that are potentially allergy‐protective” when taken during early infancy.

Fish oil supplements may be a proactive approach to reducing your child’s allergen sensitivities, especially for parents with known allergies. After all, the odds of your child having allergies is 50 percent if both the mother and father are allergic. However, pregnant mothers should consult their obstetrician before taking fish oil supplements.

For more natural, effective allergy remedies, see our post on six herbal solutions for allergic rhinitis.