Good news for cats and carpets

New research has provided strong evidence that children exposed to dust and micro-organisms from an early age are less likely to develop asthma.

Massey University and Utrecht University in the Netherlands have been conducting research over the past 10 years involving the study of about 700 Dutch children since before birth.

Massey epidemiologist Associate Professor Jeroen Douwes says the more children are exposed to dust, dirt and microbials, such as bacteria and fungi, as well as pets and farm animals, the greater the odds they will not develop asthma.

The children who were highly exposed to microbials were 60 per cent less likely to develop asthma in the first four years of life, says Dr Douwes.

The children were watched for the development of asthma symptoms such as wheezing or atopic sensitization. Atopic sensitization can develop into allergies and may be inherited from one of their parents. If a child develops this allergy the reaction is instant when coming into contact with the allergen.

Dr Douwes says the researchers measured the amount of dust found in the children's living room floors and on their mattresses.

We compared the use of mite-impermeable mattress and pillow covers with a control group using a regular cotton mattress and pillow cases. We also assessed whether children had allergies, by measuring antibodies in their blood.

Different beddings did not seem to be significant. The measurements between the mite-impermeable and regular bedding was not much different. It did not seem to affect the levels of children developing asthma.

What did make the difference in whether the children developed asthma was how clean the living room floor was. The children that were the most exposed to microbials on the floor had a lower risk for developing asthma or a wheeze.

This longitudinal study is strong evidence that removing carpets and pets in an effort to reduce the risk of children developing asthma is not effective. It may make things worse.

However if a child has developed asthma as a reaction to indoor allergens, removing carpets and pets is likely to help.

Allergies and asthma are serious conditions. Dr Douwes says if symptoms of wheezing or hives outbreak occur, seek medical attention for proper treatment. If a child is allergic to something do not force the child to be exposed to the offending allergen, and always consult with a doctor about appropriate treatments for allergies.

Created: 1 May, 2006

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