Can growing up with pets prevent allergies?

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Today we’re tackling childhood allergies to pets — and whether those allergies can be prevented by early exposure. We touched base with Deborah Pockross, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Kenilworth Medical Associates in Illinois to get the facts:

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PETFINDER: How can parents know if their child is developing pet allergies?
Dr. Pockross: Parents should look for symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, cough, wheeze or shortness of breath that occur in association with pet exposure or close contact with pets. Sometimes a child will not experience the symptoms around his or her own pet, but will become symptomatic around a new pet or someone else’s pet.

Why might a child not have as much of a reaction to his or her own pet?
With chronic exposure to a pet, a child may develop tolerance to the pet even though they are allergic to it.


Are there any steps parents can take to prevent their children from developing pet allergies?
There have been many studies evaluating how pet exposure or pet
avoidance influences the development of pet allergy and allergy in
general, including asthma. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer
about the relationship between pet exposure and the development of
allergic disease.

Some studies show that early pet exposure is protective against developing allergy. [Read
our blog post about one study that showed pet exposure may reduce a
child's likelihood of developing allergies to pet by half.
] However, other studies do not.

Would you you recommend that parents expose their children to
pets in early childhood as a preventative measure for developing pet
allergies?

Because [the benefits are] unclear, I typically do not counsel parents
on how to avoid the development of pet allergies. Instead, I educate them
on recognizing symptoms.

If your child has allergies to your dog or cat, what steps can you take to reduce the allergy and keep the family together?
It is important to keep the pet out of your child’s bedroom. Use a HEPA
air cleaner in the bedroom and use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
You can also bathe your pet frequently to reduce allergens. (Learn
more about identifying and reducing allergies to pets.)

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