Medical Moment: Lack of exposure to germs harmful to children, study suggests

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - It’s been called the “hygiene hypothesis!” All the scrubbing and wiping we do to keep germs at bay may instead weaken the body’s defense system.

Now, some experts think the lack of exposure to germs may leave children at higher risk for developing asthma and other issues.

We use antibacterial soap for our hands, antimicrobial cleanser for surfaces, and during COVID-19, Americans certainly upped their germ-cleansing game.

But is there such a thing as too clean?

“What we’re seeing right now is definitely there is an uptick in both food and environmental allergies,” Stephen Dinetz, a pediatric allergist at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

Along with being a pediatric allergist, Dr. Dinetz also gives talks about the long-running hygiene hypothesis.

“The hygiene hypothesis is a theory that with cleaner environments, antibacterial soaps, that we are not getting exposed to the appropriate levels of allergens in the environment,” Dr. Dinetz explained.

That means, especially for kids, their systems don’t have a chance to fight germs and build immunity. But is there a link between antibacterial cleaning, especially during COVID-19, and kids’ desensitization to germs and allergens?

“I definitely think it’s a valid concern,” Dr. Dinetz reasoned.

For now, Dr. Dinetz tells parents to let kids be kids and not allow a fear of germs to keep them from playing and interacting with others.

“So, that way they can have the normal reactions to things in their environment,” Dr. Dinetz said.