Cats and Cars Influence Asthma, Allergies

As if anyone needed another reason to hate traffic, new evidence shows that it can up kids’ risk of allergies. (Traffic should then also be blamed for the amount of money that is spent in the US annually on allergies).

What do cats and traffic have in common? They are both linked to childhood allergies.

As if anyone needed another reason to hate traffic, new evidence shows that it can up kids’ risk of allergies. (Traffic should then also be blamed, in part, for the ridiculously excessive amount of money that is spent in the US annually on allergies). In a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, German researchers reported that “the risk of developing asthma, hay fever, eczema or other allergies is about 50 percent higher for children living 50 meters from a busy road than for those living 1,000 meters away.” Although previous studies have reported on the link between pollution and allergies, the research is often criticized for being inconsistent; this particular study found a great deal of consistency in the “distance to the nearest main road and the allergic disease outcomes,” said Joachim Heinrich, lead researcher in this study.

The method of the study was to follow 3,000 healthy children in Munich from birth to six years old to document their exposure to traffic pollution. Once each child’s residence was measured for its distance to the nearest “busy road” (any road that was traveled by 10,000 cars in a day was considered a “busy road”), the researchers developed a model to calculate the children’s exposure to pollution at two, three, and six years old. This model was a way “to predict air pollution concentration at one point in a metropolitan area,” said Heinrich.

Now that there is consistent, concrete evidence linking traffic pollution to childhood allergies, researchers have shifted the focus of the study. They are curious to find out if moving to a less-polluted area will reverse this trend in the children.

If moving further away from the traffic pollution does not improve children’s allergies, the family could always just get a cat.

Ok, so getting a cat will not prevent children from being affected by air pollution, but it will help them build resistance to asthma triggers. Researchers at Columbia University have submitted a study to be published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that reports on children up to age five who live in a household with a cat and how they are “less likely to develop asthma and cat allergies than children who grow up in cat-free homes.” It seems that, by the time a child reaches three years of age in a house with a cat, they have developed antibodies to cat-related allergens. Although these children were likely able to develop a wheeze at this age, the wheezing usually stopped by the time the child was five; the wheeze was also significantly less likely to develop into asthma that children who did not have a cat in their home. Referring to the findings as a “complex relationship between cats and asthma symptoms,” Rachel Miller, MD, lead author on the study, claims that her team’s findings are “important in understanding the high rate of asthma in locations such as New York City.”

Although getting a cat can help build children’s antibodies and, consequently, help them avoid asthmatic symptoms, it will not shield them from the numerous health consequences associated with air pollution. More and more studies are being conducted to determine these hazards, yielding important information about which conditions and diseases are directly affected by pollution. This knowledge will help healthcare providers diagnose and educate their patients beyond simple issues like allergic triggers. Aside from being known to worsen allergies, the pollution is also thought to have an impact on heart problems, blood clots, autism, infant mortality, and many other health problems; for more information on the hazards of air pollution, visit these links:

Additional Resources:

Air Pollution's Health Risks Underestimated?

More Autism Seen in Texas Counties with Most Mercury Pollution

Air Pollution Hurts Young Hearts, Too

Air Pollution Increases Blood Clot Risk

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