THURSDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Man's best friend protects against eczema in young children, but his nemesis, the cat, does not, new research shows.
Children with a dog in the home at age 1 had a significantly reduced risk of eczema at age 4, but children who had a cat were more likely to have the ailment at the same age, the study found. Dog ownership also conferred protection against becoming allergic to cats.
"It's speculative, but possible that the protective effect is due to a sort of natural immunotherapy where children who are exposed to dogs become tolerant over time in the same way that people on allergy shots develop tolerance to allergens," said study author Dr. Tolly Epstein, an assistant professor in the division of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at the University of Cincinnati Medical School.
Or, dog allergens may have other effects on the immune system that are not yet understood, she added.
The study was done using newborns in the Cincinnati area whose parents had allergies or eczema, making the children more likely to develop the condition. Skin tests were done to see which infants were allergic to dogs and cats, regardless of whether their families had either.
Eczema is an itchy skin inflammation and may be associated with allergies (atopic eczema) or not (non-atopic eczema), Epstein explained. Between 15 percent and 30 percent of children have had eczema, which can come and go, or disappear by a certain age. Both genetics and environment are thought to play key roles in the development of the condition.
Epstein said eczema rates have risen dramatically in the past 30 years, and researchers want to understand the causes.
The study found that children who tested positive for a dog allergy and did not live with a dog had four times the risk of getting eczema than those who tested positive and did own a dog by age 4. People
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