Hand Sanitizer and Allergies

We often hear the question, “Why are there so many more allergies now then 20 years ago?” It’s a tough question to answer, but there is something called the “hygiene hypothesis,’ which according to Wikipedia is a

“lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (e.g. gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by modulating immune system development.”

What does that really mean? It basically means that we keep our kids too clean, too germ free and that leads to allergies. Allergies are more common in more developed countries, and less common in children who come from larger families. The more developed a country, the better hygiene is present and in larger families, children are exposed to more dirt and germs than in single child homes.

What about hand sanitizer? This is the first year in quite a few that my kids’ school supply list didn’t include hand sanitizer. And though I do think there is a time and place for it, like the airport or a Children’s Museum, using it in lieu of hand washing is taking those good germs away and making our bodies more susceptible to other germs and allergies.

In a study presented by the CDC, antibacterial products are seen to possibly

alter a person’s microflora, and they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children. As with antibiotics, prudent use of these products is urged.

Regular soap and water is another story – there’s nothing wrong with it. And there’s nothing wrong with a little dirt. It’s just like children who grow up around animals are less likely to have allergies to animals, kids that are allowed to get a little dirty are less likely to have other allergies.

That doesn’t mean let your child roll around in the mud and then eat dinner without washing up, or be in a germ infested place, touching everything, fingers in the mouth. It just means be prudent. Wash with soap and water before eating or when getting home. We have the rule, when you come in, wash your hands.  And I actually try to stay away from all of the antibacterial stuff (though it’s hard because it’s everywhere in everything).

A friend of mine told our kids’ teachers to let her daughter go to the bathroom to wash her hands and to stop using the antibacterial hand sanitizer on her all of the time. And you know what, she hasn’t been sick in ages.

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