Do Dogs Help Prevent Eczema and Asthma?

Nicky Broyd

October 30, 2017

Animals are a common trigger for eczema and asthma symptoms but two new US studies show dogs may not be the enemy they are often thought to be.

The first study shows babies born in a home with a dog during pregnancy receive protection from eczema in their early years. The second study shows dogs may provide a protective effect against asthma, even in children allergic to dogs.

Eczema Study

The study looked at mother-child pairs in Detroit, US exposed to one or more dogs indoors for at least 1 hour a day during pregnancy.

Findings: Researchers found a mother's exposure to dogs before the birth of her child was significantly associated with a lower risk of eczema by the time the child was 2 years. However, the protective effect was smaller by the age of 10.

Asthma Study

In the second study, researchers examined the effects of two different types of dog exposure on 180 inner-city children with asthma in Baltimore, US. The first type was the protein, or allergen, that affects children who are allergic to dogs. The second type were other elements, such as bacteria, that a dog might carry.

Findings: The researchers found that among urban children with asthma who were allergic to dogs, exposure to these other elements that dogs carry may have a protective effect against asthma symptoms. However, exposure to dog allergens themselves may result in the child having more asthma symptoms and so remains a major concern.

The two studies are being presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Boston. This means that, although interesting, the findings are preliminary and they haven't been reviewed by others in the field.

Reaction

Reacting to the findings in a statement, Dr Erika Kennington, head of research at Asthma UK, says: "This is an interesting study, but it only involved a small sample of 180 children. More research is needed into pets and asthma so that people with asthma, including children, can get the help they need.

"Animals can cause allergies which trigger asthma attacks. Some people think cats and dogs are less likely to cause these allergies but there isn’t enough evidence to show this. All animals produce skin flakes, urine and saliva that can trigger asthma symptoms. Asthma UK currently funds research projects to make a difference to the lives of people with asthma."

Nurse advisor, Holly Shaw, from Allergy UK told us in an emailed statement: "This research highlights a link between early exposures to domestic pets and a positive protective effect which reduces the number of children going on to develop allergic conditions. Exposure to animals from a young age can contribute to increasing microbial diversity which is important to kick start the immune system. This is particularly important as modern lifestyles have led to reduced opportunities to broaden microbial diversity.

"It is important to highlight that for adults and children with existing allergic conditions domestic pets, particularly those seen widely in homes in the UK population (cats and dogs), can be an allergic trigger to asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis, exacerbating symptoms and making these conditions difficult to manage."

People with a dog allergy should:

  • Keep the dog out of their bedroom and restrict it to only a few rooms in the home

  • Wash their hands after stroking a dog

  • Regularly vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner

  • Make sure their dog is regularly bathed to reduce airborne dog allergens

SOURCES:

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting

Abstract: Effect of Prenatal Dog Exposure on Eczema Development in Early and Late Childhood

Abstract: The Effect of Animal Exposures on Asthma Morbidity Independent of Allergen Among Inner-city Asthmatic Children

Allergy UK 

Asthma UK

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