The prevalence of eczema has become increasingly common, with an increase of 2- to 3-fold since the 1970s. Approximately 1 in 5 children are affected by this skin condition worldwide. Typically, children tend to grow out of eczema once they enter adolescence, but some people may carry the skin condition onto adulthood where it becomes a lifelong problem.
Researchers are still uncertain regarding the exact reason for eczema, but several triggers that lead to exacerbation of the skin condition have been identified. Avoidance of triggers is an important mechanism to ensure eczema maintains under control. Potential triggers include:
- Viral infections
- Food allergens
- Environmental allergens, e.g. dust mites, pollen, molds, dander from animals
One of the common culprits of eczema is pets. Some people with eczema may have no problem living with pets, while others are unable to have any sort of animal contact without flaring up. It is important to understand how pets can trigger eczema flare-ups, if pets are suitable for children with eczema, and how to prevent flare-ups when living with pets.
How do pets trigger eczema?
While pets are not a direct cause of eczema, they can contribute to triggers (in the form of dander or proteins in their saliva/urine) that cause eczema flares. When the body develops an allergic reaction against allergens (triggers), a high level of antibodies is produced, which leads to development of eczema symptoms.
Are pets suitable for children with eczema?
The question soon arises whether your child with eczema can have a pet. There is no definite answer, as it depends on the severity of your child’s symptoms, and how well they respond to prophylactic or preventive treatments.
There are also studies showing that having a pet, particularly dogs, in early life stages can be a protective factor against developing allergies. This is based on the hypothesis where exposure to an allergen leads to development of a resistance/immunity. Another study also found that children who had pets from a young age had lesser of the antibodies that are responsible for eczema symptoms, which suggests that pet exposure at a young age may decrease the chances of developing eczema. However, it was also found that children with a predisposition to eczema were still more likely to develop eczema when exposed to pets in childhood.
It is also good to know that there are no truly “hypoallergenic” pets (pets that produce relatively less allergens). Regardless of the type of pet, dander and saliva will always be produced. Therefore, it is recommended to choose pets or breeds that shed less. You may also consider pets without hair, fur or feather, like a fish or a gecko. Do consult a doctor about the severity of your child’s eczema before getting a new pet.
How to prevent flare-ups with pets
There is no need to choose between keeping a pet or your family’s health. Precautions and measures can be taken to ensure eczema flare-ups do not get out of hand and remain manageable. These include:
- Restricting pet access to certain areas of the house. Preventing your pet’s access to certain areas of the house (e.g. bedrooms, working space/home office, closet, etc.) can help limit your exposure.
- Bathe and clean your pet regularly. Cleaning your pet regularly can remove the build-up of dander on your pet and reduces the amount of dander being left around the house.
- Regularly clean areas susceptible to dander build-up. Regularly clean areas of your home that your pet hangs out in, e.g. their bed, toys, favourite spots, etc.
- Wash hands after contact with pet. After petting or touching the pet, ensure to wash your child’s hands and yours.
- Take care of your pet’s health. If the pet has fungal skin infection, it might trigger eczema in your child due to secondary fungal infection, so treat the pet accordingly.
Besides taking preventive measures to ensure your pets do not trigger eczema flares, it is also important to maintain a regular eczema skincare routine. This can be done by ensuring that the skin is moisturised as it aids in both prevention and providing relief during flares. A good example includes making a personalised skincare routine that includes moisturiser.
There is no definite answer on whether people with eczema can live with pets. It depends on the severity of symptoms and how an individual can control their flare-ups with medications and preventative measures. With the right advice and good eczema management, your child may be able to keep a pet too!