Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age, according to new research.
The findings may provide clues for the design of strategies to prevent asthma from developing.
Previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma. But the new research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect.
The study investigates risk factors for asthma among children living in urban areas, where the disease is more prevalent and severe. Since 2005, it has enrolled 560 newborns from Baltimore, Boston, New York City and St. Louis at high risk for developing asthma because at least one parent has asthma or allergies.
Among 442 children for whom researchers had enough data to assess asthma status at age 7 years, 130 children (29 percent) had asthma. Higher concentrations of cockroach, mouse and cat allergens present in dust samples collected from the children’s homes during the first three years of life (at age 3 months, 2 years and 3 years) were linked to a lower risk of asthma by age 7 years.
“We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions,” said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. “If we can develop strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help alleviate the burden this disease places on millions of people, as well as on their families and communities.”
“Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma,” said Dr. James E. Gern, the principal investigator of URECA and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies.”
If you find that your dog or cat around the house does cause an allergic reaction, try these steps to mitigate:
Vacuuming frequently. Vacuuming can control pet dander and hair inside the house.
Practice good hair removal. Grooming your pet regularly and keeping your home and furnishings free of hair will help.
Try “liquid dosing” for cats. Diluted doses of the sedative acepromazine have been shown to reduce the proteins in cat saliva that are responsible for many cat allergies, says Tan. However, she cautions that the effectiveness of this approach varies widely depending on the cat and the owner’s specific allergies.
Try shampoos and sprays that neutralize dander. Dander consists of tiny scales shed from your pet’s skin. Because these stick to a pet’s hair, many people focus on the hair itself. In fact, it is the proteins in your pet’s saliva that get attached to the dander when your pet grooms that are the true source of your asthma attack. Some products claim to be able to neutralize dander. Tan recommends these products to her clients on a trial basis, but says she is still waiting to hear success stories.
Control pets’ access to bedrooms. The best way to prevent an asthma attack is to avoid the allergen, says Tan. Keeping pets out of the bedroom or limited to certain rooms in the house are ways to coexist and still create an allergen-free space for yourself.
Keep bedding clean. Dust mites love to eat pet dander, says Tan. "It’s one of their favorite foods,” she says. Tan recommends dust-mite covers on beds and cleaning pet beds often.
The study referenced above was published Sept. 19 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Read more at the NIH.