Being dirty could be the answer to rising allergies in the UK

With one in three people in the UK having some form of allergy, scientists are now suggesting that our obsession with cleanliness is in fact more damaging to our health than a little dirt. “Good” bugs on our skin actually help stop our body from over-reacting to things and developing reactions such as rashes. The results found by US Scientists that have been published on an online edition of the Nature Magazine, could in fact suggest that frequent washing of hands, cleaning products and so on, have become almost too efficient.

The study involves a lot of in-depth scientific results which are all to do with a certain bacterial species called Staphylococci which help prevent the skin from inflammation. Basically, when something injures or infects our skin it is important that it inflames to help protect and heal the wound. However, with skin conditions like eczema, the skin becomes overly-inflamed unnecessarily. This is similar to an allergy; the body reacts overly to the pollen/dust etc and produces unnecessary defenses which cause the sufferer to sneeze and so on. This is because the bacteria (Staphylococci) when found underneath the skin, will cause inflammation, but on the outer skin layer it actually suppresses inflammation. But with frequent hand washing and so forth, these bugs are killed and cannot act effectively.

Whilst this may not seem entirely illogical it has helped the scientist to discover new fundamentals of healing wounds and personal hygiene. It also spells out hope for all those who do suffer from some forms of allergies. They may also support the “hygiene hypothesis” first founded in the 1980’s that suggested children who are exposed to various bugs etc during their first few years will actually boost their immune system, making them less prone to illness and allergies. It is thought that children who come from large families are also more likely to have a better immune system due to the higher risk of infection from surrounding family members. 

With our increased obsession of cleanliness, and the increased boom of allergies, perhaps this recent survey does provide the answers. Scientists are not suggesting we stop washing all together, but perhaps we need to remove our children from the cotton wool we are all too ready to wrap them in.

Friday 4th December 2009

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