Allergy Baby


Allergy Baby

September 3, 2013

Guest Post by:

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We know that the early years of a child’s life can have a lasting impact on the person a baby grows up to be.

With this in mind, Moms and Dads have long wondered if there are any factors in these formative stages that can determine a lifelong pet allergy in their children.

Does the presence of a household pet engender pet allergies, or does it instead help babies build up a tolerance that will help them become pet-friendly adults?

Since conditions vary so much from case to case it is hard to get a conclusive picture. However, some of the scientific literature seems to suggest that there may not be any significant negative effects of owning a pet.

A key piece of research you may have already seen in the press was a study conducted in Detroit where scientists followed a cohort of children born between 1987 and 19891.

Keeping a record of each child’s exposure to pets, the subjects were then assessed at 18 to determine the level of any allergies.

The findings suggested that rather than increasing the likelihood of allergies, the presence of a cat or dog during the first year of a child’s life could actually help avoid allergies.

Pet allergies

For males with an indoor dog during the first year of life the relative risk of developing a sensitivity to dogs at 18 was halved. For all teenagers who had a cat present in the first year of life there was also a drop in the relative risk.

The findings did not flag up any clear trend for exposure at any other particular age, with the researchers concluding “the first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats could or may influence sensitization to these animals”.

This is just one study, and it is hard to get a clear picture from all the different advice out there. The paper is quick to stress that this is not a definitive answer, and that the methods used would need to be repeated in larger studies.

There are plenty of other studies out there that have tried to answer the question, albeit with different methodologies. For example, one from Australia2 looked at the relationship between cat and dog exposure at birth and outcomes in children aged 12. It found that pets “either decreased or had no effect on allergic disease up to age 12.”

A meta-analysis3 based on eleven studies across Europe examined associations between pet keeping in the first two years of life and the risk of asthma or allergic rhinitis in children aged 6-10. The results were inconclusive.

“Pet ownership did not appear to either increase or reduce the risk of asthma or allergic rhinitis symptoms in children aged 6-10,” the paper found.

So does this mean that expectant parents should be rushing down to the pet store? Not necessarily. There are so many factors at play such as history of allergies, exposure to the pets, and even the time periods covered by these studies, that it is hard to come to a one size fits all principle.

In the words of the European study, advice “to avoid or to specifically acquire pets for primary prevention of asthma or allergic rhinitis in children should not be given.”

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