Man's best friend may help kids with allergies

Thu Oct 14, 2010 5:37am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Life with the family dog will give young children hours of loyal companionship, cherished memories -- and, in some cases, possibly even better health.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics says that children with a family history of allergies may be less likely to develop eczema, an allergic skin condition, if they live with a dog when they are younger than one year.

But living with a cat may increase those odds, though only among children who are sensitive to cat allergen -- substances in pet dander, saliva and urine.

Given the complexity of the situation, it is hard to give parents specific advice about pets, said Tolly Epstein, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, who led the research team.

But as far as eczema goes, a number of studies have shown there is a consistent relationship among dog ownership and lower risk, she added.

"It may be that these children develop a tolerance, but we don't know that for sure," she told Reuters Health.

The study involved 636 children enrolled as infants in a long-term study of environmental exposures and allergy risk. All were considered to be at increased risk of allergies because they had a parent with a history of asthma, nasal allergies or eczema.

When the children were younger than one year, researchers visited their homes to collect dust samples.

The children also underwent yearly exams, including a skin-prick test to see whether they'd become sensitized and their immune systems were producing antibodies after being exposed to allergens such as pet dander.   Continued...

<p>A Hungarian boy plays with an English bulldog during a dog show in Kalocsa, 130km (81 miles) south of Budapest April 18, 2010. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh</p>