Children of mothers who live with farm animals and cats are better protected against neurodermatitis. Until the age of two, they are less likely to develop this painful inflammation of the skin.
Neurodermatitis (also called "atopic dermatitis" or "atopic eczema") is a chronic and painful inflammation of the skin. The disease often appears in early childhood, usually starting in infancy. It affects up to 20 percent of children in industrialized countries, making it one of the most common skin diseases in childhood.
As great as the suffering is for the little ones, so great is the need to better understand this disease. But atopic dermatitis is an allergic disease, and the causes of all allergic diseases are complex: because: genetic factors and environmental influences have a reciprocal effect on the immune system.
Research results show that allergic diseases are less frequent in children if they grow up on a farm and if their mothers live on a farm during pregnancy. Contact with farm animals, the consumption of milk from farms, and contact with components of bacteria have a protective effect. However, this protective effect has not yet been proven with regard to neurodermatitis.
In a new study, researchers are now analyzing for the first time what effect prenatal environmental influences and genetic mechanisms have on the development of neurodermatitis during the first two years of life. The scientists studied children in rural areas from five European countries (Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland). Of the total of 1,063 children studied, 508 came from farming families and 555 from non-farming families.
The researchers were able to show that children of mothers who spent their pregnancy in the environment of farm animals or cats had a lower risk of developing atopic dermatitis in the first two years of life. In addition, they identified two genes in these children that are central to innate immunity and whose expression is associated with a lower likelihood of being diagnosed with allergic disease. These research findings are not only significant given the magnitude of the condition and its widespread prevalence, but also provide additional support for the theory that gene-environment interactions and the developing immune system play a role in the development of atopic dermatitis in young children.