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Column originally published Oct 27, 2015

Preventing Allergies And Asthma

Question: I am expecting our first baby. My husband and I have allergies and asthma. I know that there is a very good chance that our baby girl will have the same problems. Is there anything that we can do to prevent this from happening?


You are right, a baby born to both parents with allergies and asthma has a high chance of developing similar problems.  These are genetic conditions that affect our immune system; asthma is basically allergy happening in the lungs.  However, research has shown that there are things that you can do to reduce the severity of her illness.

You can start by looking around your home to reduce some of the triggers, especially dust and moulds.  Dust mites are difficult to eliminate completely, but they can be reduced significantly.  You can put plastic zipped covers over your mattresses and pillows.  Beddings should be washed regularly.  If you have carpets, considering removing them soon.  You may still have some soft toys like teddies laying around on shelves and inside closets collecting dust, please remove them from your home.

In spite of your best efforts, there will be dust in your home.  If you have forced-air heating system, dust is collecting in the ductworks which is hard to remove completely.  Vacuuming the vents won’t reduce dust.  A duct-cleaning company that uses long hoses can remove dust collected in ductworks quite well, but not completely.  Putting more efficient filters at the furnace as well as additional filters at the vents can reduce dust circulation during our long winter months.

There are vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters that can remove dust mites.  You should do research to find the best ones, some brands are better than others.  Additional air purifiers with HEPA filters can be placed in your baby’s bedroom as well as the living room.  These air purifiers suck air through the HEPA filters and remove particles in the air, therefore, can reduce dust mites and other triggers that can affect you and your baby.

Indoor mould is often found in damp basement and anywhere there is water leakage.  Your basement should have a dehumidifier running to remove moisture and reduce mould.  Putting laundry on clotheslines will trap pollens and mould from outside.  It is better to use the dryer instead.

Beyond improving your environment, there are still a few things you can consider.  Researchers have noticed that, in spite of effective treatment for allergies and asthma, there are more children diagnosed with these conditions in the last few decades.  The answer seems to be this: we are keeping our environment too sterile, too few normal healthy germs that can help us to maintain a healthy immune system.

Specialists are advising parents not to disinfect their home with chemicals like Lysol that kill ALL the germs.  We need these healthy germs.  Babies delivered naturally through the mother’s birth canal are inoculated with the mothers’ normal germs at the time of birth.  These germs will stay on the babies’ skin as well as in the intestines, stimulate a healthy immune system that can protect against allergy.  Breastfeeding can continue to provide babies with a constant dose of healthy germs from the mother.

If you do all of these, it may reduce the severity, but may not completely prevent your daughter from developing allergy and asthma.  If she does develop symptoms that you recognize, please consult with your doctor early.  Treating early symptoms, sometimes with preventative medications, can reduce severity of these conditions and prevent hospitalization.