Allergy to Hygiene

I’m sure many people have heard about the rise in immune disorders, particularly Asthma, Multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. For a long time, it has been recognised that there are more allergies present in western countries, especially developed countries like the UK. As well as blaming this increase on the prevalent rise in pollution, scientists, namely David P Strachan, came up with the hygiene hypothesis. In an admirably long study (23 years) Strachan came up with the hypothesis after noticing that children born to large families or youngest siblings suffered fewer allergies than the first born child or children in smaller families. In his paper, he commented that this might be because children born earlier (older siblings) or with fewer siblings were less likely to be exposed to infections from their siblings early on in childhood and build up a good immune system. As an only child with asthma and a mild cat allergy, I definitely fit the trend set out in this study.

In short, the more dirt and infection we encounter as a child, the better our immune system and the less likely we are to get allergies. Simple? Not so much. This hygiene hypothesis, even though to me it makes perfect sense, has never been proved and there are many that disagree with it. In my mind though, western society has become obsessed with cleanliness and I shudder at the thought of how many people carry antiseptic gels around in their bags in anticipation of being attacked by germs. This is not to say that I’d prefer to wallow in sewage because that would be grim and I’d probably die. I do know good hygiene generally leads to good health especially since washing your hands before eating has been proven to reduce the amount of colds you get. It’s people who are effectively germaphobes that are potentially a problem. Before people accuse me of not recognising this as a genuine and serious condition, I hear you. I am aware that there are particular mental health disorders that heightens the fear of coming into contact with ‘germs’ and I would hate to have it. Don’t you think though, that this could stem from modern opinions labelling all bacteria as microscopic terrorists?

In the past, around the Tudor times and earlier, people were known to carry a layer of dirt on their hands claiming that it protected them from worse diseases. I’m not sure I agree with this either as I know from my degree what’s lurking in dirt but they maybe had a bit of a point. Not being overly fussy about hygiene i.e. whether that chair you touched had someone’s sneeze on it or not and immediately whipping out the hand gel, is maybe a good thing.

It’s been found that people in rural areas suffer from allergies less than people that live in urban areas, so maybe all these people that want to run away to the countryside are onto something! Letting/ encouraging your child to play outside instead of lurking in their rooms with all their technology is possibly the best thing you could do as a parent it seems. In some ways I agree with the older generation that complain about how children these days seem to have become hermits and proclaim ‘in my day I was happy making mud pies.’ Admittedly, I do sometimes proclaim these same things but not to the extent of making mud pies.

If the sun was shining my mother would daub some sun cream on me and I would play for hours in the garden, taking my toys outside instead of staying in my room. Nowadays, games console screen are too dark for the suns intensity and make staying inside easier. For me though, being outside has been ingrained in my brain as the thing to do when it’s sunny and even though I’ve grown a bit old for my barbies, I still crave the outdoors when the sun is shining. Now I’m older, not even the rain stops me and after I write this I’m looking forward to donning my wellies and going for a walk with my umbrella.

I mentioned earlier that I have asthma and a cat allergy so you may be thinking, playing outside obviously did nothing for you then but I would disagree. I have no food allergies, eczema or any other allergy that I’m aware of. Although I obviously can’t accredit all this to playing outside and being exposed to dirt without scientific evidence, I do think that it’s helped me to become a healthier, happier person.

So, my message to the world today and one that I will stick to when I have my own children, is get outside, wash your hands before eating and don’t be afraid of dirt.

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