Sucking Pacifiers to Clean Them May Protect Against Allergies

Research presented at the annual ACAAI meeting indicates that when a parent sucks on a baby’s pacifier to clean it, they may transfer protection against allergies.

“We know that exposure to certain microorganisms early in life stimulates development of the immune system and may protect against allergic diseases later,” said allergist Eliane Abou-Jaoude, MD, lead author on the study, of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “Parental pacifier sucking may be an example of a way parents may transfer healthy microorganisms to their young children.”

The study subjects were mother-child pairs from the Microbes, Allergy, Asthma, and Pets cohort (n=141). The researchers surveyed the mothers about their pacifier cleaning methods and examined associations with serum total IgE over the first 18 months of the children’s lives. Higher IgE levels generally indicate higher risk of allergies and allergic asthma.

Of 128 mothers completing interviews at six months, 74 (58%) reported current use of a pacifier for their babies. Of those, 30 (41%) reported sterilization as their cleaning method, 53 (72%) reported hand-washing, and 9 (12%) reported sucking on pacifiers to clean them.

Parental pacifier sucking seemed to suppress serum IgE levels beginning around 10 months of age and continuing through 18 months.

The researchers said further examinations are needed to assess whether the differences in IgE levels are due to the transfer of parental oral microbes, as well as whether the lower risk of allergic disease continues for the children later in life.