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Study: Dogs Protect Kids at Risk for Eczema

Cat Exposure Increases Eczema Risk 13-Fold, Researchers Say
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 30, 2010 -- Your choice of family pet may help determine whether your child develops eczema if he or she is at high risk.

In a newly published study, young children who were allergic to dogs and lived in homes with dogs had a lower risk for developing eczema than allergic children with no canine companions.

Children with cat allergies whose families had cats were far more likely to develop the chronic skin condition than allergic children living in homes with no cats.

Confused?

The simple take-home message is that dogs just might make better pets than cats if the goal is to lower an at-risk child’s chances of developing eczema, says lead researcher and University of Cincinnati assistant professor of medicine Tolly Epstein, MD.

“If your child is high risk due to a family history of asthma, allergies, or eczema, this may be something to consider,” she tells WebMD.

Dogs, Cats, and Eczema

Between 10% and 20% of infants and young children develop eczema, a skin condition characterized by inflamed, itchy patches of skin. Like asthma and allergies, eczema is an atopic condition, meaning that it is closely linked to allergen hypersensitivity.

Family allergy history is a strong predictor of whether a young child will develop eczema. About one in four children whose mothers have allergies develop eczema, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Allergic reactions to certain foods, especially eggs, are strong predictors of whether a child will develop eczema, but the impact of non-food allergens like pet hair is not well understood.

In the newly reported study, Epstein, co-author Grace K. LeMasters, PhD, and colleagues followed 636 children at high risk for developing asthma, allergies, or eczema from birth until after their fourth birthdays.

The children were enrolled in a larger, ongoing study examining the impact of air pollution on childhood allergies.

The children were tested for 17 different allergies annually from age 1 through age 4, and their parents completed yearly surveys.

When the researchers examined which children had developed eczema by age 4, they found that children who were allergic to dogs were less likely to develop the skin condition if they had a dog in the home during their first year of life.

Children with dog allergies who did not own dogs were four times more likely to develop eczema, compared to allergic children without dogs.

Compared to children living with dogs, children who tested positive for cat allergies after age 1 were 13 times more likely to develop eczema by age 4 if they lived with a cat in their first year of life.

Living with a dog was slightly protective for children who were not allergic to them, although the impact was not statistically significant.

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