Recent Understandings of Pet Allergies

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Allergic reactions to pets have been recognized for at least a hundred years. Yet our understanding of the effects of all of the interactions between pet exposures and human immune responses continues to grow. Allergists, epidemiologists, and immunologists have spent years trying to better understand how exposures to pet allergens lead to allergic sensitization (the production of allergen-specific immunoglobulin class E [IgE] antibodies) and subsequent allergic disease. A major new development in this understanding is the recognition that pet exposures consist of not only allergen exposures but also changes in microbial exposures. Exposures to certain pet-associated microbes, especially in the neonatal period, appear to be able to dramatically alter how a child's immune system develops and this in turn reduces the risk of allergic sensitization and disease. An exciting challenge in the next few years will be to see whether these changes can be developed into a realistic preventative strategy with the expectation of significantly reducing allergic disease, especially asthma.

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