Study Shows Thumb-Sucking and Nail-Biting Can Be Good For Kids

HughPickens.com writes: Perri Klass M.D. writes in the NYT that according to a new study of children aged 5 to 11, thumb-suckers and nail-biters were less likely to have positive allergic skin tests later in life. In the study, parents were asked about their children’s nail-biting and thumb-sucking habits when the children were 5, 7, 9 and 11 years old. skin testing for allergic sensitization to a range of common allergens including dust mites, grass, cats, dogs, horses and common molds was done when the children were 13 years old, and then later when they were 32. The study found that children who frequently sucked a thumb or bit their nails were significantly less likely to have positive allergic skin tests both at 13 and again at 32. Children with both habits were even less likely to have a positive skin test than those with only one of the habits. The question of such a connection arose because of the so-called hygiene hypothesis, an idea originally formulated in 1989, that there may be a link between atopic disease — the revved-up action of the immune system responsible for eczema, asthma and allergy — and a lack of exposure to various microbes early in life. Some exposure to germs, the argument goes, may help program a child’s immune system to fight disease, rather than develop allergies. “The hygiene hypothesis is interesting because it suggests that lifestyle factors may be responsible for the rise in allergic diseases in recent decades,” says Robert J. Hancox. “Obviously hygiene has very many benefits, but perhaps this is a downside. The hygiene hypothesis is still unproven and controversial, but this is another piece of evidence that it could be true.” Although the results do not suggest that kids should take up these habits, the findings do suggest the habits help protect against allergies that persist into adulthood.


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