Antibacterial soaps and wipes, as well as rampant use of broad spectrum antibiotics has become increasingly common over the last several decades. And while the development of antibiotics for life-threatening illnesses and improved sanitation has doubtlessly saved many lives, the fear of all germs and the desire to keep kids from any bacteria or infection is almost certainly harmful. Here’s how:
Overuse of Antibiotics
Children should only get antibiotics to treat an infection that is known to be bacterial, and even then, they do not necessarily need antibiotics. If your child is not extremely ill, it may be better to let the illness run its course. This will increase the overall effectiveness of your child’s immune system. But more importantly, it will ensure that when your child needs an antibiotic, it will actually work. The overuse of antibiotics causes diseases to mutate, both within your child’s body and within the population as a whole. Avoid contributing to the development of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.
Development of Allergies
Several studies have shown a correlation between homes that always use antibacterial products and disinfectants and the development of allergies in children. While correlation does not equal causation, it may be the case that when children are exposed to very minimal germs, their immune systems are not equipped to tolerate common allergens. Alternatively, it may be that “good” bacteria provide some protection from allergies.
Memory T-Cells May Not Work as Well
If you’ve ever noticed that when you get an illness once, you tend to fight it off more quickly the next time, you’re right. Memory t-cells are cells in the body that have previously experienced an antigen and “remember” how to fight it. This memory helps the body to quickly build up an attack on an illness and even cancer. If your t-cells don’t encounter an antigen ever, however, they can’t remember to fight it. This doesn’t mean you should walk around coughing on your baby, but it does mean allowing her to play in the dirt and be exposed to some illnesses that are unlikely to be lethal or dangerous can be beneficial.
Overuse of Antibacterial Soap
Antibacterial soap,much like antibiotics, may contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. If you know your hands are clean and you’re not sick, it may be better to forego the hand washing,or at least to avoid using antibacterial products.
While caution is always good with children and you should never expose your child to something that could be life threatening, it is impossible to completely disinfect your home, and doing so may do more harm than good.