Dogs, cats, guinea pigs and other small mammals have not only been in vogue since Corona: According to the German Pet Trade and Industry Association (ZZF), there are about 34 million of them living in German households. And they often encounter children there: According to a study listed by the Allergy Information Service of Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen (Aid), about half of households with newborns and young children own a pet.
The number of people with allergies to animal dander has been increasing for years. According to Aid and the Association of German Allergists (AeDA), animal dander is now the third most common cause of respiratory allergies after pollen and dust mites.
Do pets increase or decrease the risk?
How high is the risk for children? In fact, it is not conclusively clarified what influence pets have on the development of allergies. "Studies to date have yielded contradictory results", says Dr. Katja Nemat, specialist in pediatric pneumology and allergology and on the board ofAeDA. Some studies have shown that children who grow up with a dog in the first years of their lives suffer less from asthma and other allergic diseases later on. "In other investigations the attitude of fur-carrying animals such as cats or hamsters in the dwelling was rather associated with an increasedRisiko", says Nemat. Also studies, which would show no clearEffekt, give it many.
The Allergologin from Dresden points thereby to a fundamental problem with many of these investigations: The individual life situation is not considered frequently." A family that keeps dogs may also be more likely to live in the countryside, where children may grow up differently in many respects than in the city, for example.
Animal hair is not the real problem
What is clear, on the other hand, is that the word pet dander allergy is actually incorrect: It's not the fur that leads to the typical symptoms, which include eye and nose itching that usually comes on suddenly, as well as coughing fits and skin redness. The proteins that are found in the saliva and urine or in the dander of the animals are problematic. These microscopic particles combine with dust particles. Spread so throughout the living space.
If children already react to pollen or house dust mites or if a child suffers from neurodermatitis or asthma, KatjaNemat advises families to seek good advice before acquiring a fur-bearing pet. "Children who are allergic to dust mites, for example, may experience more severe symptoms because the animals increase the concentration of mites in the home," says, she explains. Children with a grass pollen allergy may be allergic to the hay in the rabbit hutch. Conceivable alternatives are then turtles or fish. They are considered allergy-proof.
Animal hair allergy: goodbye to the pet
The parents' no to the cat or dog is sad, but it prevents the painful situation of having to give an animal away again. Separation may be necessary, for example, if an allergy develops in a child born into a family with a pet. "This is a difficult step. But the dangers for an allergic child are too great", Nemat is convinced.
Exception: if asthma occurs only in the context of an infection or severe exertion, these children may not have to give up an animal. Animals living outside, such as rabbits in the garden hutch, could also be a solution under certain circumstances. Both should be discussed in detail with the doctor beforehand.
Help in acute cases
If children show symptoms of an allergy to animal dander, the pediatrician's office is the first place to go. There or with an allergist or an allergologist then by blood or skin test the exact diagnosis is put.
Must families separate from the beloved pet, the symptoms do not disappear immediately, by the way. "It can take months for allergen concentrations in indoor air to drop to the point where they no longer cause problems", says Nemat. It is important that complaints are well treated during this time – occurring asthma, for example, with inhalation sprays.
Specific immunotherapy (SIT), which is often successful for allergies to mites or pollen, is rarely an option for pet dander allergies. It is usually only performed on people who are professionally involved with animals "as well as people who are so sensitive that they even react to cat fans in buses and trains", supplements Nemat.