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Researchers Link Childhood Asthma to Dishwasher Use

The Short of It

According to a new study, hand-washing your dishes instead of using a dish-washing machine may reduce your child's risk of developing allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.

The Lowdown

Basically, the findings support the "hygiene hypothesis," which is a theory that suggests that early exposure to many different microbes may keep a child's immune system working properly. If the immune system is working well, it won't mistakenly go after harmless substances, which is what happens when children develop allergies.

"We have only tested an association between dish-washing methods and risk of allergy and asthma, but the findings fit well with the hygiene hypothesis. And there are studies showing that hand dish-washing very often is less effective than machine dish-washing in reducing bacterial content," said lead author Dr. Bill Hesselmar, an associate professor of allergy at Queen Silvia Children's Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. "We therefore speculate that hand dish-washing is associated with increased microbial exposure, causing immune stimulation and, hence, less allergy."

The Upshot

Hesselmar and his colleagues asked parents of more than 1,000 Swedish kids, ages 7 and 8, about their history of asthma, eczema and seasonal allergies. Then they asked the parents how they cleaned their dishes.

Twelve percent of the families hand-washed their dishes. Researchers found that children in these families had nearly half the risk of developing allergic conditions compared to kids in families that used dishwashers to clean their dishes.

The bottom line seems to be that in order for our children to be healthier, we need to expose them to more germs. By sterilizing everything, we're creating such a sanitized state of existence that our children are becoming allergic to even the most innocuous things. I guess I can stop cursing at my dishwasher that only works half the time and be glad that I have to wash the glasses by hand on most days.

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