Thumb-Sucking and Nail-Biting Children Less Likely to Develop Allergies - Dispatch Weekly

July 12, 2016 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Bad habits such as thumb-sucking and nail biting may have some benefit attached says a new study while also strongly advocating against encouraging children from taking up such habits.

According to researchers at University of Otago in New Zealand, children that suck their thumbs or bite their nails have shown less likelihood of developing allergies later in life. The findings, published in journal Pediatrics, are of a study that followed progress of 1,037 participants born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972-1973 into adulthood.

The authors of the study suggest that these habits effectively expose children to a range of microbial organisms and that being exposed to the microbes at an early age may help their bodies to alter their immune system and eventually reduces the risk of developing allergies later in life.

Parents of Dunedin Study members reported their children’s thumb-sucking and nail-biting habits when their children were ages 5, 7, 9, and 11 years old. The members were checked at ages 13 and 32 years old for atopic sensitisation, defined as a positive skin prick test to at least one common allergen. At age 13, the prevalence of sensitisation was lower among children who had sucked their thumbs or bit their nails (38 per cent) compared with those who did not (49 per cent).

Children who both bit their nails and sucked their thumbs had an even lower risk of allergy (31 per cent), the authors reveal. The associations were still present at age 32 years and persisted even with adjustments for confounding factors such as sex, parental history of allergies, pet ownership, breast-feeding and parental smoking.

“The findings support the “hygiene hypothesis”, which suggests that being exposed to microbes as a child reduces your risk of developing allergies,” authors note. They do not suggest that children should be encouraged to take up these habits, because it is unclear if there is a true health benefit.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.