The theory that overly clean homes are responsible for the rise of allergies, asthma, hay fever and other autoimmune system disorders has been around for quite some time. First presented by British professor of epidemiology David Strachan in the late 1980s, the so-called hygiene hypothesis argues that lack of exposure to dirt and germs during early childhood – mainly due to excessive cleanliness of our homes – is the main culprit for the increased incidence of conditions involving the immune system, most notably allergy and asthma. But while there is a large number of studies suggesting that there may be a link between excessive cleaning and the rise of allergies, health authorities warn against getting too relaxed with our home and personal hygiene. Instead, they recommend to keep hygiene at the highest level possible, emphasising that it is the surest way to reduce the risk of infection and prevent spreading it to other people.
Lack of Exposure to Germs Only One of Several Possible Explanations
There is no denying that allergies have been on the rise. But the exact cause(s) of this rise remains unknown. Lack of exposure to germs during the first years of life could play a role by preventing the immune system from “learning” to distinguish between the harmful and harmless microorganisms and substances. As a result, it can easily “mistake” a harmless substance such as cat dander or pollen with a harmful invader. This can trigger sneezing, wheezing, eczema and other symptoms of allergy including a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. But that’s only one of several possible explanations.
According to NHS, the rise of allergies in the past two decades can be due to several factors, possibly a combination of multiple factors including diet, physical activity/exercise, pollution, smoking and passive smoking, etc. And what is even more important, no one – not even the proponents of the hygiene hypothesis – are saying that we should clean our homes less or expose children to germs in order for their immune systems to develop properly. Letting them play outside and interact with other children will do no harm, even if it means getting dirty from time to time. But intentional exposure to germs can be very dangerous and lead to potentially deadly complications.
It’s Impossible to Keep Your Home Germ-Free Anyway
The hygiene hypothesis has been used to spread another very common misconception, namely that our homes are too sterile which is of course not true. No matter how thoroughly you clean and no matter how powerful cleaning products you use, your home will never be 100% germ free. Not even professional cleaners can do it. Antibacterial and disinfectant products are exceptionally effective but as soon as the existing germs are removed, new ones “invade” your home via shoes you are wearing, coat, bag, pet(s) and even the air when you open the window. So don’t worry, your home can never really be too clean.