After touching everything in sight, little hands instinctively find their way into noses and mouths. While most parents agree that “clean is good,” is it possible to be too clean? Dr. Bryan Wilcox, ENT Specialist says yes—and over-cleanliness could be compromising your child’s immune system. Learn why Dr. Wilcox thinks children ought to ‘play in the dirt more’ in today’s post about the Hygiene Hypothesis.
What is the Hygiene Hypothesis?
This hypothesis suggests that being exposed to some ‘unclean conditions’ is actually good for a child’s immune system. Microorganisms found in dirt are sometimes called “old friends” because they’ve been present throughout human evolution. Our bodies know how to react appropriately to these microbes and exposure to them builds a healthier immune system.
“A child’s immune system needs education just like every other growing organ in their body. Early exposure to microbes helps to educate a child’s developing immune system,” says Dr. Wilcox.
Children who are kept in very clean environments have a higher rate of hay fever, asthma, food allergies, and a variety of other conditions. As a whole, Western cultures have a 17% higher prevalence of allergies than people in developing countries. “We’re not exposed to as much dirt,” says Dr. Wilcox.
Where’s the balance between cleanliness and exposure?
While good microbes (like those found in dirt) support a healthy immune system, other microbes can make children very sick. To avoid dangerous microbes such as e. coli and salmonella, cleaning and disinfecting the home is still important and recommended. The CDC recommends regularly disinfecting surfaces which may have been contaminated by raw meat, fecal matter, or surfaces that may have come in contact with a virus.
For a stronger immune system, Dr. Wilcox encourages kids to play outside and get a little dirty. “Let your children roll around with the family dog. Take them to a farm or petting zoo and let them play with goats and chickens.” He even adds, “’If you drop your baby’s pacifier, rinse it off and put it back in their mouth.”
Dr. Bryan Wilcox is an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician at Mountain West ENT | Ogden Clinic. His office provides allergy testing and immunotherapy for severe allergies. Dr. Wilcox also specializes in hearing disorders, ear surgery, sinus allergy treatment, and thyroid conditions. To schedule a visit with him, call (801) 776-2180 or request an appointment online.