Pets and kids: Are they a good combination?
For many years, people have thought that having pets along with children at an early age, is a bad idea for allergy reasons. It is estimated that 40% of American homes have dogs alone, and around 6 million Americans are allergic to cats and less than half of that have dog allergies, are the allergies due to early exposure? Many HCP's thought that kids who had a bunch of allergies were having the allergic reactions because they were exposed to either cats or dogs at a young age. And all studies prior to now had been basically looking at the rates of children with allergies to pets/pet dander (skin flakes and many times their saliva from "kisses" can cause a reaction to those allergic)and making an educated guess that having the pets caused stress on the immature immune system, and caused an allergy to the animal itself. A new study is making that a myth of the past!
What is the new study?
A study was performed over 18 years looking at both children in homes with animals as pets and those without, and following up to see how many of them had allergies to pets 18 years later. They found a minimal relative risk of increased allergies to cats and negligible risk with dogs; also cesarean babies versus vaginal deliveries had no real difference in allergy to pets risk. This study looked at blood titer levels of reactions to whatever pet they lived with, and if they had an increased level of immune response, they were assumed to be allergic. This is actually great news for those if us who have furry friends and worry about the risk (allergies) to our pending offspring!
What are signs and symptoms of pet allergies?
Coughing and wheezing
Runny, itchy, stuffy nose
Red, itchy eyes
Hives on the skin where a dog may have licked you (if allergic to saliva)
How do I know if my child is allergic?
Your HCP can perform a RAST (radioallergosorbent test) which is a blood test to find out specifically what a person is allergic to; it is more accurate than the skin reaction tests. The RAST will allow you to find out specifically what the child is reacting to, and then you can help to change the environment to allow for less allergic reactions.
What can I do if my child is allergic?
You can allow the pet only in certain parts of the home, clean fanatically if the animal goes to other parts of the home, ensure that everyone who plays with or touches the pet washes their hands thoroughly afterwards, or get rid of the pet (which makes me soooo sad!!)
You can try antihistamines (such as Benadryl, Allegra, or Zyrtec) to see if you child has decreased reactions. Use decongestants such as Sudafed or Allegra-D to allow for less stuffiness in the nose and clear up secretions, or try prescription medications such as Flonase or Nasonex that are steroids that can help prevent allergic reactions. Hopefully one of those medications can work so that you can keep your child healthy and keep your families pet!!
So, this is all good news, bad news! We can easily test for the allergens, there are treatments for pet allergies, and the allergies are not caused by early exposure to pets....so what does cause pet allergies?? I guess until we know further, we have to assume genetics, so if you are allergic to pets, be wary with your children around pets, and have them tested so that they can be around other children/families and their pets if they aren't allergic. And if you do have a child that is allergic, let them know about their allergy, how to be careful around pets, and to tell their friends if they can't be around a certain type of animal. Do what is best for your family and your child, and talk to your HCP about your options.
Yours in Good Health