Good hygiene is important, but being a germaphobe could be harmful to your health. While it is still crucial to always wash your hands with soap and water after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food, excessive hand-washing and hand sanitizer may do more harm than good.
Some researchers believe hand sanitizer overuse may be causing children to lose the ability to build up resistance to bacteria. This is one growing theory about the increase in number of children with allergies and environmental sensitivities.
Samer Blackmon, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Piedmont, supports this theory.
“By constantly using hand sanitizer, you eliminate the bacteria that helps build up your immune system, allowing antibiotic-resistant bugs to enter your system and make you very sick.”
Childhood germs and the immune system
When you are young, your immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs. It essentially adapts and regulates itself to live in your environment. When exposure to parasites, bacteria and viruses is limited early in life, children face a greater chance of not being able to fight off these foreign agents. Researchers believe this leads to an increased tendency for children to have allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases later in life.
Studies have found adults who grew up on a farm were less likely to develop allergies.
In addition, young children exposed to older siblings at home and those who attend daycare also have a lower risk of allergies and asthma.
The same holds true for those who grew up with a household pet. In one study, children exposed to pets in the first years of life were less likely to have animal allergies.
Dangers of over-washing
Using too much alcohol-based hand sanitizer or too frequently washing your hands can backfire. Over-washing can cause hands to dry out, crack and bleed, which allows germs to enter the body. Combat dryness by applying moisturizing cream or lotion to damp skin.
What is adequate hygiene?
“Hand-washing before meals is a good habit to instill in your children, but not allowing your child to play on a public playground in fear it is germ-infested is overkill,” says Dr. Blackmon. “Use common sense — wash your hands if you’ve been around someone who is sick, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose or sneezing.”
Dr. Blackmon believes traditional soap and water is a great way to sufficiently clean your hands. Proper hand-washing is key, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following guidelines:
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).
2. Lather your hands with soap. Be sure to include the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Dr. Blackmon says using hand sanitizer is fine on occasion, but do not make a habit of following your child around, quick to douse them and yourself with hand sanitizer after touching any foreign object. You are doing them and yourself a disfavor.
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