Experts use dust mites to help halt rise in allergies

Mother and baby

Doctors at Southampton’s teaching hospitals believe they can halt the rising allergy epidemic – using dust mites.

In a radical study, experts hope that exposing babies to the common allergen – often found in pillows, mattresses and on carpets – when their immune systems are developing will prevent them becoming allergic in the future.

A total of 120 babies aged five to nine months with a family history of allergy will take part in the project, which is being conducted at the respiratory biomedical research unit at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

As many as one in four people in the UK are affected by an allergy at some time in their lives, with children accounting for half of all those affected – and dust mites are the most prevalent allergy-triggering substance, causing a number of different allergies and inducing reactions in 85% of children with asthma.

“Although we still do not know why more children are suffering from asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy, we do know that children born in families with asthma and allergic disease are at a higher risk of developing them,” said Professor Graham Roberts, a specialist in respiratory and allergy medicine at UHSFT and reader in child health at the University of Southampton.

“Therefore, we hope that by giving babies a common allergen when their immune systems are working out what is and isn’t harmful will allow us to teach their bodies to accept it and not become susceptible as they grow older.”

Professor Hasan Arshad, director of the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre, added: “We believe we need to act very early in life – well before babies reach their first birthday – to be effective and, if we are correct, this should reduce the development of asthma and other allergies.”

Staff are still recruiting and any parents interested in helping are urged to contact the teams at Southampton General Hospital (023 8120 4989) or St Mary’s Hospital (01983 552 147) for more information.

Posted on Thursday 27 October 2011