Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 01:05 GMT


Nursery may protect against allergies

Nursery care may have health benefits

Children who attend preschool day nurseries from an early age may be less likely to develop allergies, scientists have claimed.

German scientists believe it is important children come into contact with other people while still young so that their immune systems can adjust to dealing with infections.

Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, they say that children from larger families tend to pick up infections from their brothers and sisters.

But youngsters from smaller families are less likely to pick up infections, and as a result may be more likely to develop allergies later in childhood.

For this reason the age that these children are sent to nursery may be an important factor in their later susceptibility to allergic responses.

The German team examined a cross-section of children aged 5-14 years from three towns in eastern Germany, Bitterfeld, Hettstedt, and Zerbst.

Of these, 620 children were from small families - often they were the only child - and 1,630 were from large families.

The parents of the children completed a questionnaire about allergies in the family and about their child's attendance at day nursery.

Allergy tests

[ image: Children were tested for allergy to grass pollen]
Children were tested for allergy to grass pollen
The researchers tested all the children for allergic responses.

They used skin-prick tests and measured antibodies against various allergens, such as grass pollen and house-dust mite.

Among the children from small families, those who first went to nursery at a young age (6-11 months) had fewer allergies, including hayfever and irritated eyes, than the children who first attended at an older age (12-23 months).

By contrast, age of entry to nursery had no effect on atopy in children from large families.

The researchers conclude that conclude that "early infection may protect against allergies in later life".

One of the study authors Dr Joachim Heinrich, of the Instititute of Epidemology, Neuherberg, said infection might impact on the development of the body's white blood cells, or lymphocytes.

He said: "Data from several other studies indicate a stimulation of Th1 lymphocytes by infections in early live that may inhibit the expansion of allergen-specific Th2 lymphocytes which is associated with the development of allergic diseases."

A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign said the condition had also been linked with lack of exposure to infection.

But she said the best way to minimise the risk of children developing asthma was for parents to stop smoking and to ensure their houses were properly ventilated.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

27 Jan 99 | Health
Allergy risk of body piercing

10 Dec 98 | Health
Food allergy tests condemned

20 Jul 98 | Health
Food producers play safe with nuts

05 Feb 99 | Health
Women can 'pass peanut allergy to their children'

21 May 98 | Latest News
Breath of fresh air for asthma sufferers

Internet Links

The Lancet


Immune system

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99