To do so, they examined clinical evidence on food allergies. They learned that 35 percent of those with them have three gene mutations that diminish the skin’s barrier, which can expose the body to allergens.
However, they learned not everyone with the mutations develop food allergies. After exposing mice with similar mutations to food allergens like peanuts, they discovered the nuts alone had no effect.
"Then I thought about what are babies exposed to," lead author Joan Cook-Mills said in a statement. "They are exposed to environmental allergens in dust in a home. They may not be eating food allergens as a newborn, but they are getting them on their skin. Say a sibling with peanut butter on her face kisses the baby. Or a parent is preparing food with peanuts and then handles the baby."
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After looking at previous skin studies that revealed how soap can deliver compounds through the skin, they evaluated infant wipes using mice, again. Once the animals were exposed to baby wipes and then dust and food allergens for 40 minutes during a two-week period, they were given an egg or a peanut. The rodents had severe and immediate allergic reactions on their skin and intestines.
The scientists realized the combination of the mutations and soapiness affect the skin’s ability to fight off dust and food allergens. “This is a recipe for developing food allergy,” Cook-Mills said in a statement. “It's a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life.”
Luckily, there’s a simple solution. “Reduce baby's skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby," Cook-Mills said. "Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago.”
The researchers now hope to continue their investigation to explore the specific signals that occur during the development of food allergy to better block them.
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