Having dogs, cats, mice, and even cockroaches in your home may help guard your baby or toddler against asthma, a new study suggests.
After analyzing dust samples from the homes of 440 inner-city children, researchers found that higher concentrations of cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens were linked to a lower risk of children in those households developing asthma by age 7.
Scientists say the findings could prompt new strategies to prevent asthma -- a condition which affects 8 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mother’s health and habits matter
Previous studies have found that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control symptoms of asthma, but these latest results suggest that early exposure to certain allergens may help ward off the disease altogether.
"Our findings suggest that primary prevention strategies for childhood asthma in low-income urban communities should probably not focus on home allergen reduction," the authors wrote.
The research team also found that a child’s asthma risk was significantly higher if their mom smoked or experienced stress or depression during pregnancy.
“Interventions to reduce prenatal smoking and to reduce maternal stress and depression during pregnancy and infancy” could further help to lower the risk of asthma developing, the researchers surmised.
Influence of microbiome
While cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens in dust samples were linked to a lower risk of asthma in children, a weaker association was observed in levels of dog allergens. The study authors say the association may have been a coincidence, but children who had more exposure to all four allergens by 3 months of age had a significantly lower asthma risk.
Additionally, a home’s bacteria population -- or “microbiome” -- was found to have an impact on the likelihood of asthma developing. Pets and pests affect the microbiome and can actually help lower kids’ odds for asthma, said study co-author Dr. James Gern.
A 2016 study showed Amish children who were exposed to farm animal microbes in house dust had lower rates of asthma than children who were not exposed to those bacteria. Similarly, exposure to furry pets in infancy has been associated with a lower risk of allergy and asthma.
While additional research is needed to confirm the roles of these microbial exposures in asthma development, Gern says that his team’s observations “imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma.”