DENVER — The season in which a child is born may play a big role in whether or not they develop various allergic diseases, according to a new study. Researchers from National Jewish Health conclude that babies born in the fall are at a higher risk of developing food allergies, eczema, asthma, and hay fever years down the line.
Childhood allergic conditions usually begin with nothing more than dry, cracked skin. But, that dry skin can cause a chain reaction of subsequent allergic conditions. This phenomenon is referred to as the “atopic march.” Usually, it starts with some eczema as an infant, but can develop into full blown food allergies, asthma, or hay fever by childhood.
“We looked at every child treated in our clinic, and those born in the fall were much more likely to experience all of the conditions associated with the atopic march,” says lead study author Jessica Hui, MD, a pediatrician at National Jewish Health, in a release. “Now we are learning more about why that is and we strongly believe it stems from the bacteria on the skin on how they affect the skin barrier.”
How eczema leads to chain reaction of child allergies
Kids dealing with eczema typically have high levels of a harmful bacteria (staph aureus) on their skin, which negates the skin’s ability to fight off pathogens and allergens.
“When food particles are able to penetrate the skin rather than being digested, the body sees them as foreign and creates antibodies against them, which causes the child to become allergic,” Dr. Hui adds.
The research team behind these findings are now holding a clinical trial investigating all of the factors possibly contributing to weak skin barriers among infants. A group of pregnant women have already enrolled, and their children will be tracked across a variety of areas (living environment, genetics, medications, products in the home) into early childhood.
Ideally, this research will help explain why fall babies are more susceptible to allergic conditions and lead to better treatments. “We think if we can intervene at a very young age, even right after the baby’s out of the womb, then potentially that’s a way for us to try to stop the development of this atopic march,” Dr. Hui concludes.
Fears of allergic reactions a struggle for parents, too
For moms and dads, such treatments would make life much less stressful for them and their children.
“As a parent, it would mean not having to worry about them going out into the world and coming in contact with something they’re really allergic to,” says Jessica Grady, whose 6-year-old son developed allergies to milk and citrus after battling eczema as an infant. “We wouldn’t have to worry about eczema treatment creams, allergy shots and EpiPens.”
Food allergies among U.S. children is no small problem. It’s estimated that two children in every classroom are allergic to at least one food.
The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.