Background: Exposure to furred pets in early life has been considered to increase the risk of allergic sensitization and consequent development of asthma later in children. However, recently, it has been suggested that early exposure to pets prevents sensitization. The aim of this study was to evaluate the importance of early exposure to pets and other environmental risk factors in asthmatic children.
Methods: This is a follow-up study after 2 years of a previously investigated group of 193 asthmatic children, aged 1-4 years. The study was completed by 181 children, who were clinically examined; serum IgE antibodies were also measured and a questionnaire was answered.
Results: Children with reported exposure to cats during the first 2 years of life were more likely to have developed sensitization to cat by 4 years of age than unexposed children. High levels of cat allergen (Fel d 1> or =8 microg/g dust) were associated with an increased risk of sensitization to cat and, in combination with tobacco smoke, also with the development of more severe asthma.
Conclusion: In young asthmatic children, early exposure to cat and tobacco smoke increased the risk of allergic sensitization and further development of more severe asthma later in childhood.