Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A new study by the National Institutes of Health has found that infants exposed to high levels of indoor pet and pest allergens have a reduced risk of asthma.
The study, published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy had a lower risk of developing asthma by age 7.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 8 percent of children in the United States currently have asthma, a chronic disease that intermittently inflames and narrows the airways.
Researchers from NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, studied 442 children and found that children exposed to higher concentrations of cat, mouse and cockroach allergens during the first three years of life had a lower risk of developing asthma by age 7.
The findings were similar for dog allergens, but not statistically significant.
"Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma," Dr. James E. Gern, the principal investigator of the ongoing Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma study and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a press release. "Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies."
Researchers found that the microbial environment in the home during infancy may be linked to asthma risk, and the abundance of certain types of bacteria in house dust was linked to an asthma diagnosis by age 7.
The study also confirmed previous research linking childhood asthma to prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke and maternal stress and depression.
"We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions," said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. "If we can develop strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help alleviate the burden this disease places on millions of people, as well as on their families and communities."