Early cat exposure can increase risk of eczema in children

Children who come into contact with cats as babies may be at greater risk of developing eczema, research suggests.

A study of newborns and their exposure to cat hair showed that more than a quarter of babies in cat households developed eczema by the age of 1. That compared with one in six of children living without cats.

Reseachers from the University of Arizona followed the development of 486 children from birth. They asked their parents how many cats and dogs they had in the house at the time the child was born, and then followed up one year later to see which children had had eczema diagnosed.

Of the 134 children with cats in the household, 28 per cent had eczema by the age of 1, compared with 18 per cent of 286 children without cats, reports Times Online.

Researcher Dr Esmeralda Morales, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, said she expected to find that having both cats and dogs at home protected against allergic diseases.

She 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 was possible the one-year- olds with eczema might have a reduced risk of asthma or other allergic diseases later in life.

Cat allergy is the most common pet allergy, affecting up to 40 per cent of asthma sufferers.

It is caused by a protein in a cat's skin flakes and saliva. The allergen is shed into the air and can remain airborne for months before collecting on walls and in clothing. Breathed in, it can trigger a reaction within minutes, causing symptoms including itchy eyes, sneezing, asthma and rashes typical of eczema. Dogs also produce an allergen but are less likely to provoke a reaction, informs Femail.