Is our environment too clean? Do we wash our hands too much? Should we pick our noses?
According to the New York Times, experts are rethinking the extent to which our society’s obsession with cleanliness is not just over-the-top, but harmful to our immune systems. "I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it,” said Colorado dermatologist Dr. Meg Lemon. “Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Immunize! If a new vaccine comes out, run and get it. I immunized the living hell out of my children. And it’s O.K. if they eat dirt.”
What Dr. Lemon and many other physicians and immunologists argue is that our immune systems get stronger with repeated interactions with the natural world. But in modernized society, we lose the exposure to small amounts of germs and bacteria, making us more susceptible to more serious infections. “Our immune system needs a job,” Dr. Lemon said. “We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.”
So what does our immune system do when it doesn’t have anything to fight?
Sometimes, it can make enemies out of what used to be nothing. It becomes irritated by dust mites and pollen, developing allergies in ways that are counterproductive and sometimes even fatal.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of kids in the U.S. with a skin allergy jumped 69 percent between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies also rose 50 percent during that period.