I hear too much about the hygiene hypothesis and allergies. It is not my favorite theory, at least as the media puts it out there. It makes it sound as if my kid has allergies because I keep my house too clean. Although I am hyper-vigilant about hand washing around the Owl, that came after the allergies were diagnosed.

One allergist explained to me that it wasn't how clean my house was, but the fact that kids were not growing up on farms and in rural areas where they would be exposed to all kinds of things we don't have in our suburban home. So that made me feel slightly better. But when I read about studies saying higher-income families have more allergies than lower-income families, and the conclusion drawn is that the hygiene hypothesis must be true, I get irritated. Are they saying that lower income means poor hygiene? So people with less money don't know how to bathe or clean? (I grew up without much money, and my mom made us all clean the house, we even dusted weekly, so the house was pretty darn clean. In contrast, I have a good income now and my house is a pit...)

I wish people would ask questions about whether it may have something to do with the lack of access to good quality health care that lower-income children are not diagnosed with allergies. Maybe they are suffering and feeling sick and don't know why. Or how about talking about the rise in allergies and the changes in our food supply? There were no soy additives in the food I ate as a child. The food that my parents grew up with definitely did not have long lists of ingredients with unpronounceable chemical names.

I've heard similar hygiene theories floated around about autism. Of course there are a million things that are "studied" such as medication, parental age, income, and a long list of other "factors." I always want to scream that correlation is not the same thing as causation. And again, I wonder if the higher income and higher autism rates are related to health care access. People who wait to have kids may have higher income and better insurance. Why are these questions not being studied instead of saying that poor people are messy? It leads us down such desperate paths as infecting children with parasites.

Researchers need to be asking parents what should really be studied. We know, we just don't have time or enough sleep to work on these things right now. So now to decide...should I go clean up my kitchen now while the kids are asleep, or will it do them some good for me to leave the mess....
 


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