Exposing babies to a dust mite could significantly reduce the risk of developing allergies including asthma and eczema as they get older, according to new research from the UK.
Researchers at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit recruited 111 children with a history of allergy in both parents and gave half of them oral drops of dust mite allergen and half a placebo.
They administered the treatments twice a day from the age of six months to 18 months and discovered exposure in this way to the common allergen, which is often found in pillows, mattresses and on carpets, reduced the incidence of allergy by almost two-thirds (63 per cent).
"These findings are extremely exciting as we have shown that a simple and safe treatment - oral dust mite extract - given to children at high risk reduces the early development of allergy," said Professor Hasan Arshad, a consultant in allergy based at Southampton General Hospital.
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"Although dust mites are an important cause of asthma and allergy, using the same allergen in an oral extract form, known as immunotherapy, can reduce the body's reaction to not only dust mites, but also other important allergens.
"As a result, we think there is a strong possibility this could now lead to the prevention of asthma, eczema and other allergic diseases."
Prof Arshad, who is chair of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton, said previous studies carried out by his team showed that about a quarter of all high-risk children have evidence of an allergy at 18 months and they were at high risk of developing asthma later in life.
The findings, presented this week at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Congress in Copenhagen, showed results in the placebo group were as expected - 25.5 per cent developed allergy to dust mites or other allergens - but the dust mite extract intervention group saw that happen in only 9.4 per cent.