(NECN/NBC News: Frank McGeorge) - Allergies and asthma are on the rise and many doctors believe it's linked to the way many parents are raising their children.
One of the possible solutions may surprise you.
Joanne Gutowsky has four kids: Josh, Matthew, Katherine and Sarah. Katherine is nine now, but when she was born she was enrolled in a study looking at the effect of your surroundings, including pets, on your risk for allergies.
Gutowsky said, "I had a lot of people telling me, ‘Don’t get a dog,’ ‘Don’t let the dog by the kids,’ Don’t let the dog lick their faces,’ Don’t let them lick their hands.’"
Joanne's instinct as a mother was different, starting with her first born and continuing with all her kids.
She said, "Josh was a few months old and we specifically put the dog and the baby next to each other."
She's glad she did.
Christine Cole-Johnson is the Henry Ford Researcher who led the study Katherine was part of. Her research team was one of the first to challenge conventional wisdom.
Cole-Johnson said, "Most doctors would tell patients not to have pets in the house if they didn’t want the child to be allergic, but it was the opposite."
It was another piece of the evidence for something that has been called the 'hygiene hypothesis,' the central idea is that it is possible to be too clean
Johnson said, "The immune system is not learning appropriately how to handle those exposures and not as good at distinguishing what's good and what's bad."
Results aren’t guaranteed. Katherine, who was exposed regularly to the family dogs, Mozart then Daisy, does have seasonal allergies, but there’s more.
Gutowsky said, "None of the kids have allergies to food, animals or any of those things."
The theory is being tested more specifically.
Cole-Johnson said, "Now we're thinking it's something about what pets bring into the house probably, not sure what that is, but it may be soil microbes since they come in and out it seems like dogs had a stronger protection than cats."
That's because dogs travel outside more. Doctor Cole-Johnson believes it's not the fur or dander, but the bacteria and microbes in the gut that are critical.
Cole-Johnson said, "It seems that the first year of life and maybe even the first six months and maybe even prenatally are all very important."
This isn't saying routine hygiene isn't important.
Cole-Johnson said, "If you're trying to prevent flu and things like that and viruses that are seasonal, you need to wash your hands."
Gutowsky said, "As always, when the kids come in from school or come in from outside playing, I want them to wash their hands."
Cole-Johnson said, "Probably a balance just like in nature a balance is important. I do think that babies and kids in school should play and be allowed to get dirty and go outside a lot."