Exposing children early in their lives to pets and germs, which are known allergens, may actually prevent them from developing asthma later in life, a study suggests.

The Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has suggested a link between children's early exposure to allergens and a reduced risk of having asthma.

“Allergens from cats, dogs, and other animals can trigger symptoms in children and adults who already have asthma and who have an allergic sensitization to the animal,” said Dr Peter Gergen from the NIAID, one of the study authors.

For the study, researchers looked at 442 children enrolled in URECA, including 130 minors who had asthma. The participants had enough data, and were evaluated at age seven.

Asthma is a condition in which the airways narrow, making breathing difficult, and leads to coughing and wheezing. It can improve during teen years, but it can recur. Asthma cannot be cured, but can be controlled.  

The researchers looked at the dust samples in the children’s homes during their first three years of life, including that of dog allergen.

Essentially, the researchers found that children with higher concentration of allergens from cockroaches, mice and cats had less chance of developing asthma by seven years of age.

Researchers likewise found that some bacteria in the house could protect against wheezing, a factor significant in the development of asthma.

Their findings, however, will need to be studied further in the future.

“These intriguing early-stage results warrant further study. It is far too early to recommend that people stop cleaning their house,” they noted.

“Understanding more about the factors that influence development of asthma will help inform development of strategies to prevent asthma before it starts,” said Dr Gergen.

The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. MIMS

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