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Some simple changes at home may help prevent long term problems.

Arielle Weg
April 06, 2018

Research has found allergies are on the rise and affect between four to six percent of children, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In just 10 years from 1997 to 2007 the prevalence of food allergies has grown by 18 percent among children under 18 years old.

But even though allergies in young children are more prevalent, it's unclear what the cause is. Some say it could be genetics. Others claim it has to do with exposure to allergens as a child. And it could be a combination of a few factors.

A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology by Northwestern Medicine has now found at least one potential link between food allergies, genetics, and skin exposure in children.

Allergies can be triggered if a baby has genes that alter the absorbency of their skin, and the parents use wipes that leave soap on the skin. When this happens, the soap can make the skin more porous, exposing it to allergens in dust, and to allergens in food.

“This is a recipe for developing food allergy,” lead study author Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in the press release. “It’s a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life.”

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First the baby's skin itself has to be exceptionally sensitive to allergens. When genetic mutations make a child's skin barriers particularly thin, baby wipes (which leave a thin film of soap) can disrupt the layer of lipids that normally provide protection.

Infants are not exposed directly to allergens through eating food, of course, but they are often exposed to them through the dust in their homes and through a caretaker’s touch. For example, if a parent or sibling recently handled peanuts, they can transfer small amounts of that food to the baby's skin, which can then be absorbed.

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But there is a solution. Though skin barrier mutations in genes are typically not visible or known until allergies have already have already started, there are a few precautions caretakers can make to prevent these four factors from occurring.

Cook-Mills suggests reducing exposure by washing your hands before handling an infant. In addition, limit use of infant wipes and after bath-time. thoroughly rinse any soap off with plenty of clean water.