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Achoo! Pet Allergies and what to do about them

My friend was visiting the other day and she suddenly started violently sneezing and itching. I knew she was allergic to some pets, but she had never had this type of reaction in my home before. Of course, in my house, the pet visitors are constantly changing so I knew it had to be one of the many that were surrounding her. I have never been allergic to any kind of animal (thank goodness), so I thought it would be interesting to look into.

I did some research and found that pet allergies are not necessarily a bad reaction to the actual animal, but an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal’s skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Most often, pet allergies are triggered by exposure to the dead flakes of skin (which is called dander) a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but pet allergies are most commonly associated with cats, dogs, rodents and horses.

If you have a pet allergy, the best strategy is to avoid or reduce exposure to the animal as much as possible. Medications or other treatments may be necessary to relieve symptoms and manage asthma.

Pet allergies are somewhat common. However, I found it very interesting to learn that you’re more likely to develop a pet allergy if allergies or asthma runs in your family. I didn’t realize that.

Also, studies say that if you have been exposed to pets at an early age, this may have an impact on your risk of pet allergies. Some studies have found that children who live with a dog or cat in the first year of life may have a lower risk of pet allergies than kids who don’t have a pet at that age.

If you do find that you are allergic to pets, obviously avoiding the allergy-causing animal as much as possible would be the first thing that you would want to try. When you minimize your exposure to pet allergens, you should expect to have allergic reactions that are less often or less severe. However, it’s often difficult or impossible to eliminate completely your exposure to animal allergens. Even if you don’t have a pet, you may unexpectedly encounter pet allergens transported on other people’s clothes.

In addition to avoiding pet allergens, you may need medications to control symptoms. Doctors may prescribe antihistamines or decongestants to help relieve your symptoms.

Joanne McCullough is the owner of McCullough Pet Sitting, a pet-sitting service for the Cape May area.

Tips for dealing with pet allergies

What can I do when visiting people with pets if I am allergic?
This tip comes from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

The approach to visiting households with pets for someone with a pet allergy is to take appropriate precautions including administration of medications prior to visitation. Your allergist-immunologist can provide information on medications for your animal allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants or appropriate asthma medications.

What If I Want to Keep My Pet?
These tips come from the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America

To test the effect of household pets on your quality of life, remove them from your home for at least two months and clean thoroughly every week. After two months, if you still want pets, bring a pet into the house. Measure the change in your symptoms, then decide if the change in your symptoms is worth keeping the pet.

If you decide to keep a pet, bar it from the bedroom. You spend from one-third to one-half of your time there. Keep the bedroom door closed and clean the bedroom aggressively:

  • Because animal allergens are sticky, you must remove the animal’s favorite furniture, remove wall-to-wall carpet and scrub the walls and woodwork. Keep surfaces throughout the home clean and uncluttered. Bare floors and walls are best.
  • If you must have carpet, select ones with a low pile and steam clean them frequently. Better yet, use throw rugs that can be washed in hot water.
  • Wear a dust mask to vacuum. Vacuum cleaners stir up allergens that have settled on carpet and make allergies worse. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter if possible.
  • Forced-air heating and air-conditioning can spread allergens through the house. Cover bedroom vents with dense filtering material like cheesecloth.
  • Adding an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to central heating and air conditioning can help remove pet allergens from the air. The air cleaner should be used at least four hours per day. Another type of air cleaner that has an electrostatic filter will remove particles the size of animal allergens from the air. No air cleaner or filter will remove allergens stuck to surfaces, though.
  • Washing the pet every week may reduce airborne allergens, but is of questionable value in reducing a person’s symptoms.
  • Have someone without a pet allergy brush the pet outside to remove dander as well as clean the litter box or cage.