Many studies show that asthma is getting more common in Ireland. I often get asked why this is the case? As an asthma sufferer myself, I decided to look into it more.
The 'hygiene hypothesis'
The 'hygiene hypothesis' is a theory that lack of exposure in early childhood to infectious agents means that the child’s immune system has not been activated sufficiently during childhood. This lack of exposure is down to our super clean modern living conditions including anti-bacterial washes, antibiotics and general sterility where children are not exposed to germs in a similar manner to previous generations. The theory is that immune system is “not activated” during childhood; this leads to the immune system becoming over sensitive to common substances such as pollen, dust-mite, animal fur; leading to the higher incidence of auto-immune conditions like asthma, hayfever and eczema in recent years.
One of the first scientific explanations of this theory was by David P Strachan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who published a paper on the theory in the British Medical Journal in 1989. He noticed that children from larger families were less likely to suffer from autoimmune conditions like asthma. Families have got smaller in the Western world over the last forty years, meaning lower exposure to germs and infections. It is over the same period that health authorities have seen an explosion in autoimmune conditions such as asthma. Further studies show that asthma is less common in developing countries, however when immigrants from developing countries come to live in developed countries where living environments are more sterile, these immigrants suffer from increased levels of autoimmune conditions like asthma and the rates increases the longer immigrants live in developed countries.It is a difficult to advise parents accurately on what is the best way to bring up their children in relation to this theory. All parents want the best for their children and common sense tells us all that cleanliness is important. No health care professional will be able to give you exact advice. In my opinion, a balanced view is to ensure children are administered important vaccines but “allow kids be kids”, let children play outside with friends and try not to worry about them coming in contact with dirt and germs, but always be cautious with children with life threatening food allergies. Only use antibiotic when really needed.
This article is shortened. More detailed information and leaflets on Asthma is available in Whelehans or at www.whelehans.ie. Tel 04493 34591
Disclaimer: Information given is a very general overview of asthma; ensure you consult with your healthcare professional for specific advice
Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. Tel 0449334591. If you have any health questions e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org