About 15 million Americans suffer from serious allergies, with about 8% of children experiencing allergic reactions that interfere with their daily lives. This is an all-time high, with the CDC reporting an 18% overall increase in allergies for the period of 1997-2007. This has left many Americans puzzling over precisely why allergies have become so common. Our increasingly sanitized lives play a key role in this allergy epidemic. And while there's no way to guarantee an allergy-free life, the choices you make early in your child's development can shield him from allergies for a lifetime.
1. Breastfeed for at least six months
Breastfeeding helps your baby's developing immune system, but it also limits her exposure to potential allergens. Formula can set off an immune reaction that renders your baby vulnerable to subsequent allergies, so exclusive breastfeeding is best. Pediatricians recommend breastfeeding only for the first six months of life, followed by breast milk supplemented with other foods through the first year. Continue breastfeeding for as long as you want, since the benefits don't stop at the one-year mark.
2. Don't overuse antibacterial solutions
Antibacterial soaps and hand solutions may prevent the spread of germs, but not all germs are bad. Indeed, many bacteria help promote healthy immunity, and exposure to small quantities of dangerous bacteria can help your child build a robust immune system. Use antibacterial products only when absolutely necessary, such as after handling raw meat. Otherwise, try old-fashioned soap.
3. Get a pet
Pet dander is one of the most common allergens, but exposure to animals from an early age can help boost immunity while limiting the risk of developing allergies. Doctors used to think dogs and cats caused allergies, so don't be surprised if you hear this myth from some relatives, or even an older doctor. Thanks to more recent research, though, we now know that having a dog or cat in the home for the first year of life significantly reduces a child's lifetime risk of developing allergies.
4. Limit environmental pollutants
Tobacco smoke is a key contributor to allergies, so never smoke in your home, and don't allow your child to visit relatives who smoke indoors. Environmental pollutants aren't limited to tobacco smoke, though. Candles, air fresheners, household cleaning chemicals, dirty air ducts, outdoor pollution, and similar chemicals also increase your child's risk of allergies. Invest in an indoor air purifier, and consider putting anti-microbial pillowcases on your child's pillow. Keep your house clean, but avoid excessive reliance on harsh cleaning products, which can deplete immunity and render your child vulnerable to immune reactions that lead to allergies.
5. Get rid of your carpet
Carpet might offer a plush surface for a growing baby to land on, but it's chock full of allergens, bacteria, and other unpleasant microbes you don't want your child interacting with. Carpeting also exposes your child to foreign chemicals from a young age, and this is correlated with an increased likelihood of allergies. Try getting rid of your carpet altogether. If that's not possible, invest in a good steam cleaner and vacuum daily.