A recent Swedish study may aid in reducing allergy rates among children. The observational study found lower incidences of asthma in homes with furry family members, namely dogs. The findings are viewed by many medical professionals as support for the “hygiene hypothesis,” which postulates that super-clean environments might increase the risk of asthma and allergies. Exposure to pet dander in the first year of life was shown to have a great effect. Culling data from over 600,000 children, the Swedish study lead by Dr. Tove Fall revealed lower rates of childhood asthma in kids who grew up with a pet dog in the home. The study followed children born in Sweden from Jan. 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2010, tracking their medical records for either a diagnose of asthma or an incident of asthma before the age of six years.
Fall and her fellow researchers found that rates of childhood asthma were 13 percent lower when kids were exposed to dogs during their first year of life. Children raised on farms showed even bigger benefits, with a 52 percent reduction of asthma rates among kids who were exposed to farm animals in their first year. The findings held constant even if the child had a parent who was diagnosed with asthma, suggesting that the Fido effect might counter a genetic pre-disposition to the diagnosis. The large-scale study was helped by Sweden’s government policies, including a centralized database that tracks medical records and required national registration of pets, including dogs.
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The study has added support to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which posits that early exposure to potential allergens can stave off allergies. As Fall explained to the scientific news website Live Science, “Kids in animal environments breathe air that contains more bacteria and bacterial fragments, which actually could lower their risk of asthma.” Fall has suggested that her data “might be helpful in decision making for families and physicians on the appropriateness and timing of early animal exposure.”
In addition to bacterial diversity, Fall has suggested other explanations for her team’s findings. The link could be exposure to increased pet dust or animal dander, the microscopic skin cells that flake off and can be transported in the air. Lifestyle and parenting attitudes among dog owners could also be the cause. “It might be due to a single factor, or more likely, a combination of several factors,” Fall explained to Live Science. Fall cautioned that households with kids that have existing pet allergies shouldn’t rush out to get a dog, saying, “If they already have a furred-animal-allergic child, we do not recommend them to get a furred pet.”
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