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Do Your Pets Leave You Sneezy and Wheezy?

While most pet allergies can be bothersome, the symptoms can be managed by taking steps to limit exposure to the allergens.

Are you among the one in five people who are allergic to pets? You know you’re in this special club, says Kristin Woodbury, D.O, a Fairfield Ear, Nose, Throat and allergy doctor, “if you have itchy eyes, a runny nose and start sneezing after visiting a home with an indoor cat or play with a dog.”

What triggers the allergic reaction? It’s not pet hair, like most people believe. “Pet hair is basically harmless all by itself,” Dr. Woodbury notes. It’s when we inhale allergens on the hair and they negatively interact with our immune system. “For some, their immune system sees these non-harmful substances as ‘foreign invaders’ and mounts a response as if they were facing a virus or bacteria.” Our immune systems attack the “threat” with a chemical called histamine. That’s when we start sneezing, get a runny nose, rashes and itchy skin, and other symptoms.

These troublesome allergens are actually proteins found in airborne dander, saliva, urine and secretions from sebaceous glands. They can settle on upholstery, rugs, bedding, as well as in your hair or on your clothing.

It’s not unusual for only one person in a family to be allergic to an animal, Dr. Woodbury notes. “Some people just don’t develop that over-reactive immune system response, even though they’re similarly exposed to the pet’s allergens. However, children with allergic or asthmatic parents are more likely to be allergic, and sometimes asthmatic.”

Cat allergies are more common than dog allergies, she adds, and it may be due to higher levels of exposure to cat allergens. “Cats more often live in homes, spend time on furniture and little time outside, compared to dogs.”

Some people may experience sudden and dramatic symptoms when exposed to animals, which makes diagnosis easy. Others experience persistently low-grade symptoms, which they could confuse with a virus or cold. “The first step in diagnosing an allergy is to discuss the patient’s history. More definitive evaluations like skin or blood testing can be helpful in cases where the allergic triggers aren’t clear.”

While most pet allergies can be bothersome, the symptoms can be managed by taking steps to limit exposure to the allergens. “Some people may choose to adapt, while others may not have a choice. If someone develops allergy-induced asthma, which can be life-threatening in severe cases, I would then strongly recommend a pet-free home.”

Manage Your Pet Allergies

Have allergies and know your pet is the cause? There are steps you can take to keep your pet and manage the symptoms, but they will involve changing your environment and some of your habits.

  • Keep pets out of sleeping areas and close bedroom doors.
  • Washing pets twice a week can reduce allergens by 85 percent. Use a damp microfiber cloth to rub down pets regularly.
  • Vacuum with a good high-efficiency particulate absorption (HEPA) filter, which will remove tiny airborne pollutants.
  • Dust frequently.
  • Wash your hands after handling a pet, and avoid rubbing your eyes and nose when around animals.
  • Use antihistamines to relieve mild allergy symptoms, or check with your doctor to see if prescription nasal sprays or eye drops will help.
  • Consider allergy shots if symptoms are severe.
  • Perhaps consider an alternative pet, such as a turtle, fish or gecko.
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