For people with asthma, having an indoor pet may not be a good idea. New research suggests that for babies, however, sharing the home with a four-legged companion can help them avoid the chronic respiratory condition in later years.
Researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint what causes asthma, but two things seem clear: genetics is a factor—the condition has a tendency to run in families—and environment plays an important role. A 2017 National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study of asthma-prone children found that environment may also have a preventive effect.
As part of research that began in 2005, scientists tracked hundreds of infants from four urban areas beginning at birth. The babies’ hometowns—are asthma hotbeds—and the fact that each of them had at least one parent with asthma or allergies combined to make them vulnerable to asthma. By age 7, nearly 30 percent of the 442 children for whom the researchers had sufficient data had developed asthma.
Researchers found that the type of indoor environment in which the children in the study spent their early years affected their chances of developing asthma by the time they reached school age—and it wasn’t the children who grew up in spotless homes that did best. Scientists collected dust samples from the children’s homes during infancy and toddlerhood. They found that children who were exposed to more cat and dog dander, as well as cockroach and mouse allergens, when they were 3 months old had a lower risk of developing asthma by age 7. Additional research may help determine why exposure to certain allergens and bacteria early in life plays a role in asthma risk.
If you worry about your baby breathing too much of your shed-prone dog’s dander and fret that you don’t have enough time to suck up every dust bunny with the vacuum, relax. The allergen exposure your child is getting now may help him or her breathe easier down the road.
Identifying what causes asthma attacks is half the battle when it comes to avoiding them. The other half is steering clear of the triggers. Here’s how you can help your child evade several common ones:
- Colds—Hygiene is your best defense. Encourage your child to wash her hands often and show her how to sneeze into her sleeves. Wash favorite toys periodically. Advise her not to share cups or dining utensils with other children.
- Mold—If you find any leaks around your home, seal them. Use a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air.
- Pet dander—Cut off your furry friend’s access to your children’s bedrooms by keeping the doors closed at all times. Wash your little ones’ bed linens and stuffed animals in hot water regularly. Remove as much carpeting from your home as you can.
- Pollen—Check the pollen count on a daily basis. If it’s high, keep your children inside for a board game day or head to a museum or movie theater.
- Scents—Purge your home of perfumes, colognes, and scented candles and cleaners.
- Tobacco smoke—Keep your children away from any situation in which they might encounter secondhand smoke.
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