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All that wheezes may not be asthma

A reader wonders if several indoor cats could be the trigger for her young nephew’s asthma.

QUESTION:

My two-year-old nephew has asthma. No other family member has ever suffered from this. I think the home environment is the cause. The parents reject this. They are both academics.

They have three indoor cats. The cats never go outside, the litter trays are in the laundry. Could the cats cause or exacerbate my nephew’s asthma?

ANSWER:

It is unlikely the cats caused the asthma, but they could be triggering the attacks.

Asthmatics have a genetic makeup that renders them prone to having the disease. (This is usually inherited, but there are some exceptions.) Such a predisposed person has to then be exposed to a trigger.

The commonest trigger for asthma in a child is a viral infection, followed by pet allergens. Asthma Australia says the family cat leads the pet allergy list.

Asthma is part of a family of atopic diseases including hayfever, infantile eczema and an undue tendency to allergies. Having one or more of these diseases is very common in Australia with nearly half of these children having asthma, but they tend to grow out of it.

It is important that a doctor has made the diagnosis, as a number of other diseases can mimic asthma. “All that wheezes is not asthma” is a phrase used in medical training. Remember your nephew has a very high chance of growing out of his asthma.

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