The exposure of babies to dust mites could reduce risk of allergies

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New research has shown that the exposure of babies to dust mites may reduce the risk of developing allergies, such as eczema and asthma, when they become older.

One hundred and eleven children with an allergy history in both parents were recruited by researchers at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit. Half of them were given oral drops of dust mite allergen and the other half was given a placebo.

The treatments continued twice a day from the ages of six to 18 months. It was discovered that the exposure to a common allergen found in mattresses, pillows and on carpets, reduced the incident of an allergy by around 63%.

An allergy consultation based at Southampton General Hospital, Professor Hasan Arshad, said that the findings are very exciting as it has shown that a safe, simple treatment such as oral dust mite extract reduces the early onset of allergies if given to children who are at high risk.

He said that although it is known that dust mites can cause allergies and asthma, the use of the same allergen in an oral extract form, which is known as immunotherapy, is able to reduce the reaction of the body not only to dust mites, but also to other allergens.

He stated that there is a strong possibility that this could lead to the prevention of eczema, asthma and other allergy-related diseases.

In the UK, 25% of people are affected by allergic diseases, and since allergies normally commence early in life, children suffer most. Dust mites are the top allergy-triggering substance in the UK and prompts reaction in a high number of children who suffer with asthma.

Professor Arshad is the chairman of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton and has stated that previous studies done by his team has indicated that around 25% of children who are in the high-risk group show evidence of an allergy at 18 months and go on to be at high risk of developing asthma during their later years of life.

The findings of this study were presented to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Congress which took place in Copenhagen on Wednesday. It indicated that the results achieved in the placebo group were as was expected as 25.5% developed an allergy to dust mites or other known allergens. However, the dust mite extract group saw this occurrence in only 9.4%.

A consultant in paediatric allergy and respiratory medicine, Professor Graham Roberts, stated that a reduction in allergies at an early age should result in a reduction in the development of asthma during later childhood. He said that there is still the problem that they need to indicate that there is a prevention method for asthma, and since the reactivity to the allergen has been reduced, the likelihood of asthma development in children is low.

The children who participated in the study will be followed and checked when they become three and five years old to examine the long-term effects of the treatments they received.

Image Credit: Nate Grigg

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