Nail biting and thumb sucking habits in children can encourage good health later

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According to a research, it was found that children who bite their nails or suck their thumb are less likely to suffer from allergic conditions such as asthma or hay fever.

While both the habit of biting nails and sucking the thumb worries the parents but the study from New Zealand suggest both these habits may enhance health, and especially if the child does both the things.

Young thumb suckers and nail biters increase their exposure to microbes at a very early stage, which in turn boosts their immune system and this is because of children sucking their thumb or biting their nails.

“Children who suck their thumbs or bite their nails are less likely to have atopic sensitisation [sensitivity to allergens] in childhood and adulthood.” Concluded the findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics’s,

The research seems to lend further weight to the hygiene theory. The theory suggests those people exposed to potentially harmful bacteria as a young children are more likely to grow up able to resist them, while on the other hand those children raised in cleaner environment are more likely to suffer from allergic ailments such as eczema, asthma and hay fever.

Malcolm Sears, a co-author of the paper, told the New York Times, “Early exposure in many areas is looking as if it’s more protective than hazardous, and I think we’ve just added one more interesting piece to that information,”

These findings came into sight from the ongoing Dunedin multidisciplinary health and development study. It has been tracking the health of 1,037 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1972 and 1973 as they have grown up.

Stephanie Lynch and Robert Hancox who are co authors asked the parents of the children about their thumb sucking and nail biting habit when they were five, seven, nine and eleven years old.  The children when they reached at the age of 13 and 32 they were given a skin- prick test to see if they were allergic to common allergies such as dust mites, grass and household pets, which trigger allergic reactions.

Almost 31% of the children who were analysed in the study conducted, were “frequent” participants in one or both habits at either age.

At age 13 and age 32 it was found the children had a lower risk of atopic sensitisation. These findings persisted when adjusted for multiple confounding factors,” the study says. “Children who had both habits had a lower risk of atopic sensitisation than those who had only one. No associations were found for nail biting, thumb sucking and asthma or hay fever at either age.”

The authors have said that their findings did not explain how the habits of thumb sucking and nail biting had the potentially protective effect.

Hancox said we don’t know which organisms are beneficial how they actually influence immune function, even if we assume that the protective effect is due to exposure to microbial organisms.