Babies and Outdoor Allergies

We will try to expose our daughter Arya to as many allergens as possible while she is a baby to reduce the chances that she will develop allergies later in life. Both my wife and I have allergies and I had a pounding sinus headache today thanks to the “very high” pollen alert throughout Boston.

Although I can control my allergies with over-the-counter allergy medication, sinus headaches make me a lot less patient with my daughter Arya when she cries.

The combination of feeling guilty about being impatient with my baby and my pounding allergy headache make me want to just go to bed. Unfortunately, my headache seems to get worse whenever my baby is screaming.

It is too late for me to do anything about my own allergies, but I spent the evening reading about babies and allergies to see if there is anything we can do to prevent our daughter from having the same allergy problems.

Research about the development of outdoor allergies in babies is still ongoing, but I feel the balance of research provides a clear view that more exposure is better.

An old study conducted in 1981 found that delaying a baby’s exposure to pollen for the first 6 months decreased subsequent pollen allergies while a newer study in 1997 (with one identical author) found that children born during spring pollen season were less likely to develop pollen allergies later in life. More nuanced research on the development of allergies shows interplay between climate change, timing of exposure, and genetic predisposition.

Many papers find that exposure to secondhand smoke causes allergies later in life while others show a strong genetic component to a baby’s likelihood of developing allergies.

The most striking theory was first demonstrated in a chart in a 2005 article [pdf] in a prestigious journal:

Babies and Outdoor Allergies - GraphThe authors suggested that the risk of developing allergies was based on a bell-shaped curve.

Babies who were exposed to low amounts of an allergen were less likely to be sensitized to it in the future. Similarly, babies who were exposed to high amounts of an allergen were also less likely to be sensitized to it in the future.

It was the babies in the middle of the curve — who were exposed to intermediate amounts of an allergen — who were most likely to develop allergies later in life.

Further refinements of the theory that more exposure is better (also known as the hygiene hypothesis) test individual genetic factors and levels of exposure. Research is still ongoing, but the basic idea that more exposure to allergens may be better for babies has been supported by additional papers and is the subject of an entire national allergy program

Research is still ongoing, but since we cannot eliminate Arya’s exposure to allergens, we are going to try to expose her to as many allergens as possible early in life. Mommy and Daddy may not be able to do anything about our genetic contribution to our baby’s future allergies, but we will do everything possible to ensure that our daughter doesn’t have to deal with the same daily sinus headaches as her father.

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