Since the study is based on observations, it cannot prove that any pet or pests can prevent or cause asthma. It merely suggests a potential link.
The research was published today in the of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It was funded by the federal government and also included researchers at Boston University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, U.C. San Francisco and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The children in the study had at least one parent with asthma or allergies so they were at higher risk of developing the disease. Nearly one-third of the children were diagnosed with asthma by age 7. Cockroach allergens were found to be most protective against asthma, with mouse and cat allergens also showing a benefit.
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While the research seems to contradict the idea that feces and saliva of cockroaches can trigger asthma, the key might be a bacteria attached to the allergens, Bacharier said.
The study also supports a shift in pediatric medicine toward early exposure to allergens such as peanuts in an effort to avoid allergies. A pristine environment in infancy could cause the immune system to overreact later in life when the child is exposed to allergens, the theory goes.
Asthma researchers have long looked at animal exposures to find any hints at the development of the lung disease. The research has often been conflicting. With so many genetic and environmental factors influencing asthma, it is very difficult to separate animal exposures to determine any link.
A 2015 study showed a relationship between early exposure to dogs and farm animals and a lower risk of childhood asthma. But dogs were named an asthma culprit in this 2010 report. Other research has shown higher rates of asthma among cat owners. And here’s one that shows cats reduce kids’ asthma risk.
The bottom line is the risk of asthma should not be a main factor in deciding whether or not to get a pet. And a little dust around the house may not be a bad thing.