How to protect your children from developing hay fever, according to experts. Keep a dog in the house
Keeping a dog in the home may help prevent children from developing allergies, a study claims.
Researchers found children up to the age of six who lived with a dog were 50 per cent less likely to become sensitised to allergens such as pollen.
It is thought the pets bring germs into the home, stopping it being "too clean" and kick-starting the child's immune system.
Children who are licked by dogs may also be protected by early exposure to bugs that live in the dogs' mouths and on their coats.
Previous generations were exposed to more dirt - and the micro-organisms in it - which helped their immune systems develop resistance.
The six-year study, published today in the European Respiratory Journal, surveyed 9,000 parents in Germany.
Scientists at the National Research Centre for Environmental Health in Munich asked them to answer detailed questionnaires on possible allergic symptoms and the children's exposure to dogs.
In addition, blood samples were taken from more than 3,000 children at the age of six and tested for markers which indicate an allergic response to pollen, dust mites, cat and dog hair, and mould spores.
Lead researcher Dr Joachim Heinrich said: "Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitisation to pollens and inhaled allergens."
The researchers are planning more tests when the children reach the age of ten to see whether the protection stopped them developing allergies such as hay fever.
Dr Heinrich said it was important the dog was kept at home from the start of the child's life, with the first year seemingly critical to reducing his or her sensitivity to allergens.
But he added: "Until we understand the mechanisms underlying this protective effect from dogs, we cannot say that parents-to-be should go out and get a puppy or a kitten."
Having a dog could be the best remedy for hay fever | the Daily Mail