Fighting allergies caused by furry friends
It’s hard to imagine your life without your furry, sweet, adorable companion, but Fluffy or Fido may also add a sniffling nose, watering eyes, and sneezing to your daily routine.
In some cases, finding a new home for your pet may be the only solution. But in other, more manageable cases, your doctor can work with you to come up with solutions so you can still enjoy the love and companionship of your beloved pet.
What Causes Pet Allergies?
While most people assume fur is the root of pet allergies, it’s actually proteins in the pet’s urine, saliva or dander (dead skin cells) that cause the problem, says Dr. Casey Nelk, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at Sentara ENT Specialists in Elizabeth City, N.C.
Pet allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, facial pain from nasal congestion, coughing and itchy, watery eyes. Some people can also develop a rash or hives. Pet allergies can be worse for those with asthma. In extreme cases, exposure to pet aller-gens can cause breathing problems and wheezing within minutes.
A skin pick test is the "gold standard" to confirm allergies, Dr. Nekl says.
"It's advised to test, as you may be allergic to pollen or mold on the pet and not the pet itself. Even then, the test may not be conclusive," he says.
Some breeds may be advertised as hypoallergenic, but no cat or dog has been proven to be truly allergen free. Some breeds and hybrids are more tolerable for those with allergies, Dr. Nekl says. But the only way to avoid pet allergies completely is to skip pets with hair, fur or dander and pick one with scaly skin — like iguanas or snakes.
How Are Pet Allergies Treated?
If you prefer furry pets over scaly ones, over-the-counter medications can ease annoying symptoms. However, do not exceed recommended dosing, Dr. Nekl warns. When these medications fail to ease symptoms, patients should take additional steps, such as:
- Hand washing
- Reduce exposure
- Oral antihistamines
- Steroid nasal sprays
- Antihistamine eye drops
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Allergy shots
Pet allergies can change over time. Some people may gain immunity through exposure or simply outgrow the allergy. However, symptoms of allergies can return just as mysteriously as they disappear, Dr. Nekl says.
How Can I Treat My Home?
Pet allergens are stubborn particles. They can stick to furniture, walls, carpeting and other surfaces for months. Cleaning them can take some time.
- Remove carpeting and scrub woodwork. Bare floors and walls are best.
- Steam clean carpet if you must keep it.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom. Wash bedding and curtains.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter regularly to reduce allergen levels.
- Change clothes after prolonged exposure to an animal that causes allergies.
- Purchase an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Wash hands after petting the animal.
- Bathe pet weekly.
- Ask someone who isn’t allergic to the pet to brush it often to remove dander.
It may take six months or more to completely clear a home of pet allergens. When cleaning methods, treatments and avoidance do not significantly decrease allergic reactions, removing the source of the allergen – the pet –may be the only action left to take, Dr. Nekl says.