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Guarding Against Asthma And Allergies

By Dr Katrina Warren on August 15, 2011 in Other

Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with one in six children and one in nine adults currently living with this chronic condition. Not surprisingly, many parents are concerned about childhood asthma and allergies and believe that they cannot own a dog or a cat as it may increase the risk.

However, according to research published in the European Respiratory Journal, dog ownership in early childhood actually guards against the development of sensitivity to the causes of allergic reactions.

The research says that: “Dog ownership in early childhood was associated with a significantly lower rate of mixed pollen and inhalant sensitization… Regular contact with dogs, without ownership, during childhood was not associated with those health outcomes”.

The Petcare Information and Advisory Service (PIAS) says that research conducted in 2008 in Australia showed that 9% of people who do not own a pet say that they don’t because of concerns about allergies. However, in the same research, when pet owners were asked to identify any problems associated with their pet, allergies were not identified.

“If someone has asthma or believes they have an allergic reaction to pets, it is important to consult their doctor before acquiring a pet. However, it is clear that owning a pet does not necessarily cause allergic reactions and that having a dog in the family from early childhood can actually protect against the development of allergic reactions,” says Susie Willis, spokesperson for PIAS.

It is important that people with asthma have an awareness of their triggers, including those that they can be exposed to in the home environment. They should have a written ‘Asthma Action Plan’ developed in consultation with their doctor to help them manage their asthma and to know what to do should an asthma emergency arise.

According to PIAS, minimising the risk of allergic reactions includes identifying a suitable breed of dog or cat and managing your pet and home environment.

“Not all people with allergies react to both dogs and cats. For some it could be either cats or dogs that they react to and there are breeds of dogs and cats that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction such as Poodles, Bichon Frise and Bedlington Terriers, and Rex cats,” says Ms Willis.

There is no doubt that one of the reasons that the crossbred ‘oodles’ have become so popular is because they often have the non-shedding coat of a poodle. However, all breeds of dogs and cats shed a certain amount of dander, or dead skin cells, and this is often what people react to.

If a dog or cat is washed once a week – outside the house – it will significantly reduce the spread of airborne allergens. Similarly, the amount of allergens can be reduced by keeping the pet on hard surface flooring, regularly vacuuming furniture and floors, and keeping pets away from sleeping areas.

Further research will help us to understand the links between pets and the ‘stabilising’ influence on the immune functioning of children but it is clear that a predisposition to allergies does not have to mean no pets, which is great news for pet lovers!

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