Background: The increasing prevalence of asthma and allergy in many countries demands evaluation of potential risk factors to improve the possibility of prevention.
Objective: We studied the association between exposure to cat and dog allergen and allergic sensitization in young children with asthma and interactions with potential environmental risk factors.
Methods: One hundred eighty-nine young children with asthma were evaluated. IgE antibodies to cat and dog were analyzed. Questionnaires were filled in focusing on exposure to cats and dogs, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and signs of home dampness as indicated by window pane condensation (WPC) during the first years of life. House dust was analyzed for content of cat (Fel d 1) and dog (Can f 1) allergen.
Results: There was a strong association between the degree of reported exposure to cat and dog and the concentration of the respective allergens in floor dust. A dose-response relationship was found between cat exposure, measured as either reported degree of cat exposure or cat allergen levels in dust, and sensitization both to cat and dog. No such relationship was found between exposure and sensitization to dog. WPC increased the risk for sensitization to cat (odds ratio = 2.6, 95% confidence interval 1.2-5.8), whereas ETS strongly tended to do so both to cat and dog. Interaction was found between exposure to ETS, WPC, and high levels of cat allergen (>8 microg/g dust). The presence of all 3 risk factors revealed a multiplicative interaction with a high risk of sensitization to cat (odds ratio = 42.0, 95% confidence interval 3.7-472.8).
Conclusions: Keeping cats indoors may be a health hazard for infants and young children at risk for development of asthma, particularly when they live in a damp house and their parents smoke.