Pets and Asthma May Go Hand in Hand

Monday, March 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) - Asthma cases could drop nearly 40 percent among U.S. youngsters under age 6 if susceptible children didn't have pets or other allergy triggers in their homes, researchers say.

Their study suggests that eliminating known household risks could prevent asthma in more than 500,000 children a year and underscores the important role environmental factors play in development of the disease.

``This could have a profound effect on medical costs in the United States and, more importantly, on the health of children,'' said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, associate professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.

His findings appear in the March issue of Pediatrics. They are based on an analysis of data on 8,257 children under 6 who participated in a national health survey between 1988 and 1994. About 6 percent had been diagnosed with asthma.

Children with pet allergies were 24 times more likely to have asthma than those without. Living in homes with smokers or where gas stoves were used for heat also were significant risk factors; such children were nearly twice as likely to have asthma.

While these risk factors have been previously linked to asthma, Lanphear said his analysis is the first to estimate the combined effect avoiding them would have on reducing incidence of the disease.

``If residential exposures, including tobacco smoke and indoor allergens, were eliminated, and if these exposures are determined to causes asthma, which is the central hypothesis among experts, we would reduce asthma in this age group by 39 percent, or about 530,000 cases a year,'' Lanphear said.

The data he examined did not include information on exposure to dust mites or cockroaches, two other known household risk factors for asthma.

More than 17 million Americans are estimated to have asthma, including nearly 5 million under age 18, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Researchers believe that the chronic lung inflammation may be inherited and that allergies or exposure to substances that irritate the airways trigger attacks, which typically include wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Asthma-related costs total an estimated $12.6 billion annually, including medical treatment and lost productivity, according to the academy.

Dr. Gillian Shepherd, a New York allergist and member of the academy's board of directors, said the study underscores a consensus among asthma experts that ``we should be a lot more aggressive at trying to block young kids' exposure to allergic materials.''

``If you come from a family that has a history of allergies, you absolutely positively should not own a pet with kids at home. The likelihood that those kids will develop allergies to the pet is high,'' and that could trigger asthma, Shepherd said.