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Generally, allergies occur because the human immune system overreacts to various stimuli from the environment. By interpreting harmless signals as dangers to the human body, the immune system responds with unnecessary hypersensitivity.

Recently, Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Alberta, and her team of twelve researchers discovered that children who were exposed to pets either in the womb or up to three months after birth had higher immunity and higher levels of two favorable microbes than did those who did not have early exposure to any furry friends. The two types of microbes, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, are beneficial bacteria that are linked to lower risks of allergic disease and obesity, respectively, and were found in twofold higher amounts in children with early animal exposure versus children without early animal exposure. Kozyrskyj reasons that the critical time frame in which immunity and microbes co-develop is early on in life, and exposure to dirt and bacteria during this key time creates early immunity. Her study further supports existing research that raising children with dogs may lower rates of asthma.

In another study published in JAMA Pediatrics, Tove Fall, a PhD at Uppsala University, investigated the relationship between animal exposure and asthma in the Swedish population. The results of Fall’s study concluded that children who were exposed to dogs during the first year of life had a 13% lower risk of asthma than children who did not have such exposure. Moreover, Fall concluded that farm animal exposure was linked with even greater reduced risk of asthma, as much as 52% reduced risk in school-age children and 31% reduced risk in pre-school-age children. Regular exposure to microorganisms in farm soil has also been shown to lower the risk of allergies and asthma in children.

For both studies, the first year of a child’s life is the key timeframe in which early exposure can have a beneficial influence. After a child turns one year old, exposure to these microorganisms will not favorably influence the child’s immune system.

Early exposure to animals can help increase immunity to allergies in children.

Image Source: Lisa B.

Whether it be a house pet or a farm animal, a furry creature, if introduced early, can lower the likelihood of a child developing allergies or asthma. Because the human immune system and individual immune responses are shaped early on in life, early exposure to microorganisms can influence our immune system to behave in specific ways in the future.

Feature Image Source: 029/365: Allergic by Brian

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