Background: Studies suggest that early childhood exposure to pets may protect from the development of atopy, but limited information is available on adults. The association of allergy markers in adulthood with current and childhood exposure to pets was studied considering retrospectively the window of exposure.
Methods: Immunoglobulin E (IgE), skin prick tests (SPT), eosinophils were related to exposure to pets in 187 adult asthmatic cases and 243 controls from the Epidemiological Study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma, bronchial hyperresponsiveness and atopy (EGEA) study. Analyses were redone after exclusion of subjects who removed pets or experienced symptoms to animals to take into account selection in that retrospective study.
Results: In asthmatic cases, current exposure to pets was unrelated to SPT positivity (+), whereas childhood exposure was significantly related to less SPT+ to any allergen, and to cat in particular, with an association restricted to those exposed before 2 years of age [OR = 0.30 (CI 0.12–0.76)]. Considering the relative timing of exposure in relation to asthma onset showed that the protective effect of exposure to pets occurs for pet exposure starting before asthma onset [OR for SPT+ = 0.19 (CI 0.08–0.48)].
Conclusion: Results support the hypothesis that exposure to pets in early life, and in particular before asthma onset, may protect against allergen sensitization in adulthood.