Pet Allergies

By:    Published: March 22, 2012

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Does just the sight of a dog make your eyes water? Do you get all choked up – not with puppy love – but from contact with a canine? If man’s best friend feels more like your enemy, it’s likely that you have a dog allergy.

But dogs aren’t the only pets that you can be allergic to. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and allergies to birds, rabbits, mice and hamsters are also quite common.

Pet allergies can lead to other health problems in the long-run, such as chronic asthma. If you suspect that you or your child has one or multiple pet allergies, it’s important to know what the cause is and how to treat it.

Causes

An allergic reaction is an immune system response to allergens that you come into contact with. When you touch or inhale these allergens, your immune system mistakes them for harmful substances and produces antibodies to fight them off. The production of certain chemicals, such as histamine, is also triggered and that causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Any of the following pet allergens could cause an allergic reaction:

  • Dander: Pet dander can easily collect on furniture, clothing, bedding and floors and can remain airborne for a long period of time.
  • Saliva: Pet saliva can stick to most surfaces including carpets and furniture and when it dries it can become airborne.
  • Urine and dust: Urine from rodents can also trigger a reaction as can the sawdust from their cage, which can contain dander and hair.

Being exposed to any of these allergens for extended periods of time could lead to the development of chronic asthma in the long-run.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually appear just a short time after coming into contact with an allergen. The nasal passages and skin tend to be the most affected areas. Here are the most common symptoms associated with pet allergies:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy mouth or throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Hives
  • Itchy skin

If wheezing, difficulty breathing and a tight chest are experienced with these symptoms, it’s possible that an asthma attack has been triggered from the allergic reaction. If any of the symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time, it’s best to seek medical attention.

Diagnosis

There are two main methods that a doctor can use to determine whether or not you have a pet allergy.

  • Blood test: This will measure the amount of antibodies that are present in your bloodstream after being exposed to an allergen. If those antibodies are specific to a particular allergy, it’s likely you have that allergy.
  • Skin test: Blood tests are not always accurate, so a skin test may be needed to pinpoint the source of the allergy. During this test, your skin will be pricked with needles that contain small amounts of pet allergens. If your skin produces a reaction, it’s likely you have an allergy to that animal.

Your doctor may also examine your nasal passages for any signs of inflammation.

Treatment

The most common way to treat a pet allergy is through medication. Antihistamines are often used to alleviate the symptoms of a reaction as well as nasal sprays and decongestants. Other medications such as leukotriene modifiers and cromolyn sodium can prevent the immune system from producing symptom-causing chemicals.

Another way to treat pet allergies is through immunotherapy, which exposes you to pet allergens in gradually larger amounts to desensitize your immune system to those allergens.

Cleansing your nasal passages often with a salt water rinse and a Neti pot can also be helpful in alleviating symptoms. (To learn more about flushing the nasal passages, read Nasal Irrigation For Relief From Sinus Problems.)

Lifestyle Changes

Having a pet allergy means that you’re going to have to make certain lifestyle changes. For starters, if you already have a pet, you may need to find a new home for it. But if you can’t part with your pet, here are some ways to keep your symptoms at bay:

  • Keep your pet outside. If your pet is comfortable with being outdoors and if the climate isn’t extreme, let your pet live outside to reduce the amount of allergens inside of the house.
  • Set some boundaries. Let your pet know where it is and isn’t allowed. Establish limits such as not letting your pet in your bedroom or bathroom to keep allergens out of those rooms.
  • Bathe your frequently. Keeping your pet clean can reduce the amount of allergens it tracks through the house. Get a family member, friend or professional to bathe your pet for you so you don’t suffer an allergic reaction.
  • Clean your house often. Washing bedding and clothing and clean carpets and furniture often to keep the amount of airborne allergens down to a minimum.
  • Consider covering your air vents. Allergens can be spread through heat and air so cover your vents with cheesecloth to reduce the spread of allergens. If you can, install a HEPA filter as this will greatly reduce the amount of allergens in the air.

Having a pet allergy doesn’t mean that you can never have a pet. Fish and turtles make great pets and are rarely the cause of an allergy. If you do decide to keep a cat or a dog, you’ll simply have to make some lifestyle adjustments so both you and your pet can live together comfortably.

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