Beating Allergies with Allergens

Just as filling a young child's ears with classical music may stimulate supreme intellect, exposing a kid to popular allergens early on may save him or her from debilitating allergies later.

Until recently, it was thought that the best way to prevent allergies was to keep the culprits — peanuts, pet dander, even intestinal worms — far away from children. But recent research may bring the peanut butter and jelly sandwich back to the table. Exposing kids to allergy triggers may also train their immune systems to recognize a genuine threat (serious illness) while disregarding minor irritants (the neighbor's dog).

"When you're born, Day Zero, your immune system is like a new computer. It's not programmed. You have to add software," said Joel Weinstock of Tufts New England Medical Center in a USA Today interview. "Between the ages of zero and 12, you're learning to read, you're learning to write, and your immune system is learning to react to things. Part of that is learning to limit reactivity."

Kids aren't the only ones who can benefit from this new method of treating allergies. Scientists are also testing the theory out on allergy-prone adults. In what seems like nothing short of a holistic approach, they are honing in on the root of the allergy instead of simply treating the symptoms.

"What we've learned is that it may, in fact, be important to be exposed early on to a sufficient quantity of allergy-causing substances to train the immune system that they are not a threat," said Andy Saxon of UCLA in USA Today. "And, in people who already have allergies, we see for the first time where the problems lie, and we have new opportunities to tweak the system."

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