A Positive Side Effect of Thumb-Sucking?

Findings boost 'hygiene hypothesis'
Findings boost 'hygiene hypothesis'

(HealthDay News) — Children who suck their thumb or bite their nails past preschool age may be less prone to allergic reactions when they reach adolescence, according to research published online July 11 in Pediatrics.

The study findings are based on over 1,000 New Zealand children who entered the study at birth. Most were followed into adulthood.

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Based on parents' reports, 31 percent of the children were either sucking their thumbs or biting their nails "frequently" between the ages of 5 and 11. Those children were found to be one-third less likely than their peers to develop allergic sensitization by the time they were 13. The same pattern was still apparent at age 32, the researchers found.

"Our findings are consistent with the hygiene theory that early exposure to dirt or germs reduces the risk of developing allergies," study author Malcolm Sears, M.B., Ch.B., of McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in Hamilton, Canada, said in a university news release. "While we don't recommend that these habits should be encouraged, there does appear to be a positive side to these habits."

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