Children who are exposed to cats soon after birth face an increased risk of developing eczema, an inflammatory condition that causes the skin to become red, scaly and itchy, says a study.
Esmeralda Morales at the University of Arizona in Tucson and other researchers studied 486 children and asked their parents how many cats and dogs they had in the house at the time the child was born, according to science portal EurekAlert.
The researchers then followed up one year later to see which children had been diagnosed with eczema. Of the 134 children with cats in the household, 27.6 percent had eczema by one year of age, compared with 17.8 percent of 286 children without cats.
Previous studies have found that people with eczema have a higher chance of also having allergic conditions, including hay fever and asthma.
“Other studies have found that having cats or dogs at home seems to be protective against allergic diseases, so we expected to have similar findings,” said Morales.
Being exposed to two or more dogs at home suggested a slightly protective, but not significant, effect on children’s risk of developing eczema, he however said.
“Pets are a source of a compound called endotoxin, and if a child is exposed to endotoxin early in life, the immune system may be skewed away from developing an allergic profile,” she said.
It is possible that the children in the study who developed eczema at age one might end up having a reduced risk of asthma or other allergic diseases later in life, Morales noted.
“The findings do seem to add more questions about pets and asthma and allergies,” she said. “Since there are a lot of contradictory data out there already, clearly it’s a topic that needs further research.”