African Americans born in the United States are three times as likely to develop asthma as neighbors born outside the country, according to a new study that promises to shed light on the lung disease epidemic.
The study focused on asthma rates in neighborhoods outside Boston, Mass., as the Boston Globe reports. The article explains:
"Theories for the disparity range from more sunlight exposure for foreign-born African-Americans during childhood, to less time spent cooped up inside, where mold, cockroach droppings, and other triggers dwell.
"One of the most provocative and even paradoxical suggestions involves something called the hygiene hypothesis: Because natives of other nations, especially those in the developing world, may encounter more infections growing up, their immune systems often ignore threats such as dust mites and mold. When the immune system does not regularly confront life-threatening diseases, its ammunition instead is directed at lesser enemies, provoking allergic reactions that can spawn asthma."
Asthma is a growing problem, despite decreasing air pollution at least from traditional smokestack and tailpipe pollution. Indoor air pollution, from chemicals released from common household products, may well be on the increase, even as other large sources of indoor air pollution like cigarette smoke is on the whole decreasing. The "hygienic hypothesis" might give pause to all hyper-clean parents who focus too much on dirt, perhaps, and not enough on toxic or untested chemicals in air fresheners, cleansers, fragrances, carpets, fabrics and other common household items.
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