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Nail biting may prevent allergies: report

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 12/07/2016

Thumb sucking and nail biting are the bad habits that might just be a good thing.

Researchers have found children who suck their thumbs or chew their nails may be less likely to develop allergies later in life.

Exposure to microbial organisms may alter immune functions in children, University of Otago study lead author Bob Hancox says.

"The findings support the `hygiene hypothesis', which suggests that being exposed to microbes as a child reduces your risk of developing allergies," Professor Hancox said.

The study followed more than 1000 children born in 1972-73, the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study, and examined their nail biting and thumb sucking habits at the ages of five, seven, nine and 11.

They were tested at the ages of 13 and 32 for atopic sensitisation, a positive skin prick test to at least one common allergen.

Just 38 per cent of children with one of the two habits tested positive to an allergen, compared to 49 per cent of children who were not nail biters or thumb suckers.

Children who did both were even less likely to develop an allergy, with just 31 per cent testing positive for a sensitisation.

But researchers found while there was a difference with skin prick testing, there was no change in the rate of prevalence of allergies like asthma or hayfever.

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