Allergic to your pet?
August 28, 2010
There is nothing worse than being allergic to the one you love. Unfortunately, such was the case for me when I was growing up. I was allergic to the family dog, my cat, my horse and probably many of the other animals at the barn. But, not being around these animals was simply not an option, so I lived with swollen eyes, a runny nose and chronic sneezing. I just thought that was they way life was. I have since learned that there is a lot that can be done to ease the discomfort associated with animal allergies, and I have learned that millions of Americans are similarly affected.
Symptoms of allergies to an animal range from mild hay fever or a rash to life-threatening asthma attacks. And, many people aren’t allergic to a new pet, but develop the allergy over time. This can be particularly heart breaking, because a pet that is used to being coddled may be banished from the bedroom or even the house as allergies worsen. The reverse is true as well; the human may “acclimate” to the pet and symptoms reduce over the years.
The only way to end pet allergies is to eliminate exposure to the offending animal. Many allergists strongly encourage that pets be banished from the household if an allergic adult or child lives within. This helps tremendously, but, since there are over 100 million dogs and cats in the USA, it could be difficult to eliminate exposure completely.
After 25 years of suffering, I decided to seek the advice of an allergist regarding my chronic allergies. I strongly recommend that you do not wait this long to get help for yourself or your child. Multiple tiny injections in my back revealed that my most serious allergies were indeed to cats and dogs (and pigs, but that didn’t worry me much). The doctor mentioned that I should “get rid of” my pets. I laughed as I explained that I didn’t think that would help me much since: a) I would never just “get rid of” a family member and b) I was a veterinarian. Together we worked on a solution. In my case, it took a combination of avoidance via filters and pet shampoos, medications and hyposensitization shots to reach a state of normalcy. Many years later, I only need to take an occasional antihistamine.
Allergy medications for people have come a long way in the last ten years, and a visit to your doctor may help your physician choose a combination that will work best for you. In rare cases, a person can be hyposensitized to pet allergens with weekly injections like I did. However, allergists usually prefer that you avoid exposure to animals rather than take the risks associated with hyposensitization injections.
Here are some tips to help you avoid some of the pet allergens:
- High efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) help to filter the pet allergen from the air in the house. Install these filters where you spend the most time.
- Bathing pets in antihistamine shampoos (ie. Histacalm) weekly can help remove some of the offending allergen from the pet. There are also anti-allergy solutions that you can wipe on the pet daily.
- One of the best aids is to turn the rooms where you spend the most time, like the bedroom or a child’s playroom, into a pet-free zone.
- Outside of the pet-free zone, clean everything from top to bottom. If dusting and vacuuming aggravates your allergies, hire a maid service to perform this function while you are out of the house. There are special vacuums that trap dust and pollen.
- Wash your hands frequently, and if you have handled the animal, take a shower or wash your hands and face to remove some of the offending allergens.
It is interesting to note a recent study that shows that infants exposed to animal allergens in their first year of life are less likely to become allergic. This finding has reassured expecting parents who have wondered if they should banish their pets to the outside before the baby arrives. In fact, it is better to have them around!