What everyone must know about early life allergen exposure
According to statistics, about 90 percent of our time is spent indoors. The number could be much higher in recent times due to COVID-19 which has caused many governments around the world to impose lockdowns and forced people, including children, to stay home in order to avoid contracting the virus and halt its spread.
But more worrisome is the fact that these kids are also exposed to other dangers – like the threat from airborne allergen exposure in their early lives.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology defines an allergen as a usually harmless substance capable of triggering a response that starts in the immune system and results in an allergic reaction, like sneezing or itching. For instance, if you have an allergy to pollen, your immune system identifies pollen as an invader or allergen. But the reaction event can turn serious and also be overlooked.
How then does the indoor living environment affect children? A recent study in environmental medicine from the University of California's Institute of Integrative Immunology looked at early life exposure, including prenatal exposure and how this can be linked to behavioural changes, growth delay and neuroimmune complications; and made some startling revelations.
The researchers found that children exposed to allergens, including water damage, and mould in the womb for up to two years may display growth delay, allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergic dermatitis, motor problems and speech delay whereas when older children – that is those between the ages of two and five – are exposed to mould and water-damaged environments, they display symptoms, including allergic rhinitis, motor problems, behavioural problems and speech delay.
Did you see the elephant in the room? All the children were experiencing seizures! This symptom is a lot worse than just a runny nose isn’t it?
The doctors presented three case studies and the children involved all showed positive allergy tests to the following four fungi: Alternaria, Penicillium, Aspergillus fumigatus, and Rhizopus.
They, therefore, concluded the following. That:
- The developing immune system can show an aggressive response to environmental danger signals.
- As a result of prolonged cytokine release caused by an allergic response, seizures and behavioural instability can occur.
- Indoor environmental triggers like mould, mycotoxins, dust mites and other particulates can lead to a skewed neuroimmune response.
- The solution by the doctors, especially to reduce immune activation and control the appearance of seizures, was in all cases to, firstly, identify if children were living in unhealthy households during the mother's pregnancy and during early life, and then determine if they were sensitized to mould. If the home inspection or assessment revealed allergen conditions like mould or water damage, then the doctor could recommend relocation to a mould-free home, an action known as mould avoidance.
So, the main point here, even as scary as it is, is that epileptic seizures and other abnormal behavioural problems were simply the result of mould exposure. When in doubt, get it tested.
You should also now know that indoor air quality is not restricted to allergy and asthma problems alone. It could have more far-reaching consequences.
It then behoves you as parents with young children, pregnant mothers and their partners, grandparents, childcare workers, property managers and landlords as well as integrative medical doctors and allied healthcare practitioners to take more drastic measures aimed at protecting these children from allergen exposure at their very early age, even in the midst of the pandemic.