Madeline Vann, MPH, recently wrote and article asking that same question: Is Cleanliness Among the Causes of Allergies? In this article, medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD, Madeline discusses the Hygiene Hypothesis, which is the idea that by exposing children to less dust and germs we can actually increase their likeliness to develop allergies and asthma at a young age! Dr. Daniel Soteres agrees.
As always, consult with an allergy specialist about your specific condition! Click here to request an appointment online or call us at: 719-473-0872 in Colorado Springs, or 719-564-2503 in Pueblo. Don’t forget about our Briargate office!
Too Clean By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
Being too clean may actually be the cause of some allergies and is also linked to asthma. Find out why.
Hundreds of ordinary things we come in contact with on a daily basis can trigger allergic reactions and asthma — from pollen and mold to pet hair and dust mites. It’s not an insignificant problem: More than 50 million Americans have some type of allergy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and about 25 million Americans have asthma — a number expected to increase, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If someone in your household has allergies or asthma, your first reaction may be to regularly try to remove allergy irritants like these from your home. But all that mopping, sweeping, air freshening, and spray cleaning could actually increase your risk of allergies and asthma. Research has shown young children who aren’t exposed to allergens and germs in their early years face a higher risk of developing asthma and allergies later in life. One study of Amish children who live and work on farms, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggested that early-life exposure to allergens may prevent the immune system from developing allergies. It’s not the first to make such a connection. Additionally, chemical sprays used for cleaning might trigger asthma and allergies in some adults.
Allergy Causes: The Hygiene Hypothesis
The argument that too-clean environments contribute to allergies is called the “hygiene hypothesis.” Generally, the idea is that exposure to germs and infection helps build the immune system, which can protect against allergies and asthma.
Some experts have associated cleanliness with allergies for several years. One study of 900 infants found that children who attend daycare are 35 percent less likely than those who stay home to develop allergies and asthma later in life. The ones who entered daycare between 6 months and 1 year of age had 75 percent less asthma by age 5 than their peers.
“It’s a hypothesis, but it doesn’t explain everything, such as why children raised in inner cities, where they are exposed to allergens like air pollution and cockroaches, have higher rates of asthma,” says Kenneth Rosenman, MD, chief of the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Michigan State University.
Studying Allergies On The Farm
The best data supporting the idea that early exposure to allergens reduces the risk of allergies comes from studies of farms in Europe, says Rosenman. These farm studies, where exposure to animals, dirt, and germs is more or less unavoidable, show that a messy childhood might protect against allergies.
A similar study of 1,300 children in New Zealand showed that children whose mothers lived on farms during pregnancy were 50 percent less likely to have asthma and significantly less likely to have allergies such as hay fever or eczema. Published in the European Respiratory Journal, the study suggests that the exposure of pregnant women to possible allergy causes enables their bodies to create antibodies for the fetus as well.
Cleaning Products And Allergies
Not only does a too-clean environment put children at risk of later asthma and allergies, the act of cleaning might be causing asthma and allergies in adults.
According to a study of more than 3,000 adults who did not have asthma when the study began, using cleaning sprays more than once a week can trigger asthmatic attacks and the risk of asthma increased as the use of sprays increased. Sprays that could lead to asthma and allergies include glass cleaners, furniture cleaners, and air fresheners, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Previous studies have shown that people whose work exposes them daily to cleaning products — especially spray de-greasers, bleach solutions, and air fresheners — are more likely to have asthma or the kinds of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing, that people associate with allergies. Women who already have some type of lung infection or illness are at increased risk from spray cleaning products. The effect appears to be isolated to spray cleaners. Use of cleaning agents in other forms did not have the same effect.