The Best Way to Protect Against Allergies? Start While in the Womb

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Moms pass on protective immunity to their children, and the ability to fight allergies is no exception.

Dr. Jay Lieberman, assistant professor of pediatrics at The University of Tennessee, reviewed research on women who received allergy shots–known as immunotherapy–while pregnant and found that they lowered their child’s chance of developing asthma, food allergies and eczema by up to 16%. Lieberman and his team queried 192 women ages 18 to 48 about both their allergies and those in their children, and accounted for other allergy-influencing factors such as breast feeding.

Previous research showed that mothers pass antibodies and other immune cells on to their child as infants’ first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, so the scientists believe that the immunotherapy provided by allergy shots could boost that protection against common allergens. In children and adults, the shots prevent the progression of allergies and lessen the symptoms of sneezing, watery eyes and runny noses.

The findings are encouraging because kids born to parents who both have allergies have a 75% chance of also developing the immune-based reactions. If mothers could prevent their kids from having allergies by getting allergy shots while pregnant, the authors argue it could significantly cut health care costs related to the condition.

“More research is needed to understand if mothers can truly prevent allergies in their children by receiving allergy shots during or before pregnancy. However, these study results show there is a strong association which is very encouraging as allergists to explore this possibility,” said Lieberman in a statement.

The results were presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).