Do puppies prevent asthma? Not quite, but a new study out of Sweden hints that dogs and farm animals both have a beneficial effect on growing kids.
A huge study out of Sweden has concluded that dog and animal ownership lowers the risk of asthma in children, but the connection has more to do with the child’s exposure to bacteria and filth and the great outdoors than anything else.
According to NBC News, dogs don’t necessarily have a direct effect on the health of a child’s airways. But expectant parents shouldn’t send away their canine friends for the sake of their new baby. Anyone with a dog knows how dirty they can be, but that dirt is a good thing.
“To let children have a pet in their home is likely to enrich the family life in many ways, and perhaps also enriches the child’s microbiome and immune system,” said lead study author Tove Fall.
The data speaks for itself. The Swedish study examined kids born between 2001 and 2010, Medical News Daily reported, information on dog and animal ownership, and on asthma med prescriptions and asthma diagnoses in preschool and school-age children.
They found that being exposed to a dog as a baby lowers asthma risk 13 percent for school-age kids. Exposure to farm animals was even more beneficial, and lowers it 52 percent. For preschoolers, the chance of developing the disease lowers to 10 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Studies have linked environment and asthma before: tobacco smoke, dog or cat exposure, family size, birth order, microbe exposure, and socioeconomic factors have been cited as a cause.
“Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child’s risk of asthma to about half,” Fall added. “We wanted to see if this relationship was true also for children growing up with dogs in their homes.”
Among 276,000 school-age children, the parents of 22,000 owned a dog in their first year of life and 950 had other animals. Of these, 11,600 had an asthma attack by age 7. Among 379,000 preschoolers, 53,000 had been around a dog and 1,700 had farm animals. Of this group, 19,000 had asthma at the beginning of the study and 28,000 more asthma cases were recorded in follow up.
So does this mean parents should go out and buy a dog or clear a space in the backyard for a goat? If they don’t suffer from allergies — yes. And according to Fall, it may not be so vital to keep the house spick and span all the time.
“As a parent in a dog and baby household, it is nearly impossible to keep everything clean, and maybe this is a good thing for your baby’s future health.”
The idea of exposing an infant to bacteria and dirt may seem counterintuitive, but it’s vital to boost and strengthen their immune systems. Animals provide that abundance of filth. An allergy specialist named Dr. Frank Virant said children who hang out with the dog or farm animals are exposed to bacteria that lowers the chance of developing asthma. And the study authors said contact with a diversity of microorganisms and endotoxins not only lowers the risk of asthma but other infectious diseases.
But dog owners have another thing in common — they spend lots of time outside — which may also explain the decreased risk of asthma. Outdoors, children aren’t exposed to indoor allergens and are more likely to live outside polluted urban areas in fresh country air.
Childhood asthma is considered a global health problem, with 9.3 percent in the U.S. alone suffering from the disease. Its prevalence has been on the rise for the past 30 years. The airways of asthma sufferers are sore and swollen, and when untreated, lowers stamina and avoidance of physical activities.
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