Background: Increasing evidence suggests that children raised with an animal(s) in the house have a decreased risk of becoming sensitized. However, it is not clear whether this phenomenon is related to airborne exposure.
Objective: To estimate airborne exposure to animal dander and dust mite allergens using a device that can sample large volumes of air silently.
Methods: The device, which uses an ion-charging technique to move air and to collect particles, was run at 1.7 m3/min for 24 h in 44 homes with and without animals. The allergen collected was measured by ELISA for Fel d 1, Can f 1, Der p 1, and Der f 1.
Results: Airborne Fel d 1 was present in all homes with a cat (n=27). The quantities measured, i.e. 0.5-20 microg in 24 h, represent 0.01-0.3 microg Fel d 1 inhaled/day at normal breathing rates (20 L/h). Values for houses without a cat were 0.01-0.05 microg inhaled/day. Airborne Fel d 1 correlated significantly with floor Fel d 1 (r=0.58, P<0.001). Results for Can f 1 were similar in houses with a dog, but this allergen was only detected airborne in two houses without a dog. Neither Der p 1 nor Der f 1 (i.e. <0.01 microg) was detected, which represents < or =1 ng inhaled/day during normal domestic activity. During disturbance airborne mite was detected with both the ion-charging device and a filter run in parallel. For cat and mite allergens there was a close correlation between the two techniques (r=0.84, P<0.001).
Conclusion: Exposure to cat or dog allergen airborne in homes with an animal can be up to 100 times higher than exposure to mite allergen. The results are in keeping with a model where immunological tolerance to animal dander allergens results from high exposure.