A CHILD’S risk of developing asthma is slashed by 50 per cent if they are protected from certain foods and dust mites, Southampton doctors have discovered.

In a groundbreaking study, Professor Hasan Arshad from Southampton General Hospital has found that protecting babies from highly allergenic foods and dust mites during their first 12 months can prevent asthma during childhood.

The remarkable results, which prove that the risk of a child developing asthma is reduced by more than half if their contact with common triggers of allergy is controlled from birth, come 23 years after the study was first launched.

The professor’s team assessed 120 patients with a family history of allergy, who were recruited at birth 23 years ago, to find out whether or not breastfeeding mothers and their children who followed a diet of strict avoidance of dairy products, along with the use of vinyl mattress covers and pesticides to kill dust mites, had a lower risk of asthma.

They performed follow-ups at ages two, three, four, eight and 18 and found that while only 11 per cent of those in the prevention group had developed asthma by age 18, more than a quarter of those who were naturally exposed to substances linked to allergic reactions had the condition.

The research, published in the journal Thorax and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is the first study to show a persistent and significant reduction in asthma throughout childhood.

Prof Arshad, a consultant in allergy, said: “Although genetic links are arguably the most significant risk factor for asthma in children, environmental factors are the other critical component.

“Although this was a small study, we have found that the risk of developing asthma at some point during childhood is reduced by more than 50 per cent if we introduce control of a child’s environment.”

Prof Arshad said there was now an urgent need to replicate the findings in a large multicentre study.

He added: “By introducing a combined dietary and environmental avoidance strategy during the first year of life, we believe the onset of asthma can be prevented in the early years and throughout childhood up to the age of 18.”