Continuing research is showing that having a pet around in your child’s early days just may be what helps prevent from some of the dreaded allergies that often develop in childhood.
Two new studies are suggesting that exposure to dogs early on, or even before being born, can help prevent eczema, a condition that often plagues young children with dry, flaky patches on their skin.
Interestingly, while many allergists recognize that there is often a connection between children who have allergies and eczema, the new research suggests that exposure to dogs, even prenatally, can reduce the risk of eczema nearly in half at age two of the 782 children studied.
Lead researcher, Dr. Gagandeep Cheema, is an allergy and immunology fellow at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, and said that typically, eczema is a predictor of allergic conditions in children as they grow, and often the first sign of allergic disease.
Research does show that eczema is not always caused by allergy, however, and this research looked at 782 children and their mothers, and found that those who had prenatal dog exposure had less risk of eczema. This effect seemed to subside by the time they were ten. Dr. Cheema says that as data continues to grow, that might change.
Another new study looked at the odds of acquiring childhood asthma when living with dogs, particularly looking at the substances on dogs, like bacteria or dander. The study looked at 188 children from Baltimore, Maryland who had asthma. The researchers found that the non-allergen substances found on the dogs, such as bacteria, actually seemed to reduce the need for their asthma inhalers, and the children who lived with dogs also had reduced symptoms of asthma at night.
They also found, though, that when they were exposed to allergy-inducing proteins on the dogs (like dander), the odds of needing the inhaler and suffering nighttime symptoms increased.
Study author, Dr. Po-Yang Tsou, is with Johns Hopkins University and said that it’s as if there is a protective element on asthma when there is exposure to dogs with non-allergen substances, and a negative effect when the substances are allergen inducers. That said, he believes that exposure to dogs, regardless of non-allergen protein protection they may give, is still a major concern for children who are actually allergic to dogs. Not all children with allergies and/or asthma are, and for those, dog exposure may provide benefit.
Scientists say this research is intriguing, but leaves questions about dog exposure benefits still unanswered, and Dr. Tsou’s study did not find any protective exposure for children from cats, though other recent research suggests there may be benefit when it comes to asthma protection.
Dr. Cheema says he wouldn’t suggest people go out and get a dog just to keep allergic issues away from their children, particularly for people with severe allergies or asthma. But, he believes that for parents who already have a family dog, it may be protective of children who come into the home.
Currently, it’s believed that a dog in the home helps because dog exposure can affect a child’s microbiome in a positive way, and this additional research shows that there is deeper a relationship from our pets than often is thought, says Dr. Cheema.