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Pediatrics/Effect of Travel on the Immune System


Dear Dr. Olson,
I was writing to ask about the effect of travel on the immune system.  My husband and I are Americans, but we have been living as expats.  Our daughter was born in Denmark, and then we moved to England, and now we live in America.  When she was in Denmark, she had a persistent cough that the doctor said was natural and that she would outgrow.  Then when we moved to England her breathing problems developed into asthma and she had some scary episodes at night or at play where she'd completely lose her breath, but since we have moved back to the States, she hasn't needed her inhalers once.

I find this fascinating, and I was wondering if there had been any research done on the effects of foreign travel on the immune system.  I mean, clearly there are lots of different kinds of germs and allergens you may come into contact with in different countries, but I was wondering, aside from the obvious reactions of getting sick or having an allergic reaction, if there would be any other effects such as weakening or strengthening one's immune system.  What would it do to your body if you lived in an environment that you were mildly allergic to for your whole life?  What role does genetics versus the nationality of your parents play in your natural immunities?

Thank you for your time and consideration of my questions.  I look forward to learning more about this subject.

Hi, Mahalia,

I don't know whether there is any research on travel/immune systems, but to me, the big issue here is germs and allergens.  If one traveled and was totally exhausted all the time, this can wreak havoc on ones immune system.  The nationality of ones parents shouldn't make much difference, but genetics in terms of general tendency toward allergy is very important. We get accustomed to our environments and over time this probably limits the allergic responses to things based on the concept of tolerance.  Likewise, sudden exposure to a novel set of allergens could cause some significant immune responses.

Hope this helps, Dr. Olson


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David Olson, MD


I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions about general pediatric topics, either medical issues or behavioral issues. This would include all the various questions one receives in a busy pediatric practice. I`m a board certified pediatrician in northern Michigan and have been in practice for over 15 years. I enjoy the teaching role I have in our practice and would enjoy the opportunity to help others with their pediatric problems.

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