Maternal history influences risk of asthma in children exposed to cats

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While beneficial for many, cat exposure may triple the risk of asthma in some children

Recent studies have gathered evidence that cat exposure during infancy can be protective against asthma. Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital confirmed these findings in all but one situation: when the child’s mother has asthma. Researchers found that in a group of children with non-asthmatic mothers, those exposed to a cat were 40 percent less likely to experience persistent wheezing as compared to those with no cat exposure. Among children with a maternal history of asthma, the risk of wheezing associated with exposure to a cat increased with age.The findings suggest that children of asthmatic mothers become more readily sensitized to cat allergen and wheeze when exposed to it. “This research reinforces our knowledge that for the vast majority of children, having a cat in the home during their developmental years can be beneficial by protecting against asthma and allergies,” said Juan Celedon, lead author of the study. “It is only among a high-risk group – children with a maternal history of asthma and perhaps, those whose mothers are allergic to cats – that exposure to a cat can negatively impact respiratory health.” The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.