You might think that having a clean and animal-free house is the perfect way to avoid disease, but when it comes to getting asthma, think again. Household exposure to creatures like cats and cockroaches during the first three years of life appears to reduce your risk of developing asthma later on.
A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology followed inner-city children during their first seven years of life. The researchers sampled dust in their homes, looking for allergens, and found that exposure to cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens before the age of 3 reduces the likelihood of getting asthma by age 7.
More than 8 percent of children in the US suffer from asthma, a condition that causes the airways to inflame. It leads to unpleasant symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It can be life-threatening in severe cases.
Previous studies have suggested that reducing pet and pest allergens in the home is good for people with asthma. In contrast, exposure early on appears to actually have a preventative effect.The new findings are a step in the right direction in terms of finding a way to avoid the condition.
“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,” said Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded the research.
The scientists assessed 442 children, 130 of whom had asthma. They collected dust from their homes when they were aged 3 months, 2 years, and 3 years. They found that when there were higher levels of mouse, cat, and cockroach allergens, children were significantly less likely to have asthma at the age of 7.
A similar result was also found for dog allergens, but it wasn’t statistically significant meaning that it may just be down to chance. However, asthma risk was found to be lower when dog, cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens were present when the children were 3 months old.
The researchers also found a connection between bacteria and asthma development – certain bacteria influenced development, although further research is needed to know more.
“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,” explained Professor James Gern, one of the study’s authors. “Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies.”
The researchers are continuing to study the children to see if they can discover even more about what triggers asthma to develop. In the meantime, feel free to use this as evidence to convince your parents/other half/flatmate that getting a pet is a great idea.