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June 13, 2012

More Exposure to Nature Means Less Allergies

Allergies are a topic I am well versed in because of experience. Since I was a small child I have been blessed with allergies to all the indoor and outdoor allergens; pet dander, grass, pollen, dust mites etc.

Despite my constant runny nose and itchy eyes, I continue to surround myself in the things that make my skin itch. I have always owned furry pets, and currently own a cat and live with 2 other cats and a dog. I also love to spend time outdoors gardening, biking, and walking, and even pick and bring the flowers inside!

Through my own experience I have found that, although at first my allergies get worse, my body over time because accustomed to a particular allergen I have constant contact with. For example: when visiting my Mother, and petting her dog, my skin becomes itchy within 5-10 minutes, and if I touch my face I’ll get a runny nose and itchy eyes. However, I have almost none of these symptoms with my cat, which sleeps in my bed with me. On that same note, when I left to study abroad for over a month, and came back, I was sensitive to my cat’s fur and dander again.

It seems that my personal observation of my body becoming accustomed to its allergens over time due to more exposure isn’t so farfetched. According to the article from Science Now “The Great Outdoors Is Good for Allergies” by Rachel Nuwer, a new study shows that more allergies occur in people who are least exposed to nature.

"We are proposing that contact of people, particularly children, with the natural environment and biodiversity could be really important for the development of the immune system," says Ilkka Hanski, an ecologist at the University of Helsinki and lead author of the study.

The study surveyed and took DNA samples from teenagers who had lived in their home (rural and suburban) their whole life, taking into account pets in the home, family members who smoked, and identifying all wildlife in the surrounding areas.

They found that allergies were tied to the amount of biodiversity around the teenagers' homes; the more forest and agricultural land, the lower the prevalence of allergies. On the other hand, kids living near bodies of water or in urban centers had significantly higher levels of allergies.

What they concluded was that people who grow up in more rural environments are less likely to develop allergies. The reason may be that environments rich with species harbor more friendly microbes, which colonize our bodies and protect against inflammatory disorders.

This isn’t the first article I’ve seen about children developing allergies and sensitiveness to the natural world. I've read many others that recommend children be exposed to pets and the outdoors at an early age to prevent asthma and allergies and build immune systems.

These articles give you all the more reason to unplug the TVs, hide the Ipod and Nintendo chargers and force your kids to play outdoors this summer. Let them get dirty! They need it!


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