Almost 62% of U.S. households have pets, and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs.* Unfortunately, millions of pet owners have an allergy (allergic rhinitis) to their animals.
The proteins found in a pet's dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people. Also, pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens.
An allergen is a normally harmless substance that triggers the immune system to overreact in people with allergies. This response can cause allergy symptoms such as sniffling, sneezing and itchiness and watery eyes.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no truly “hypoallergenic breeds” of dogs or cats. Allergic dander in cats and dogs is not affected by length of hair or fur, nor by the amount of shedding.
Giving up a pet in order to prevent allergy symptoms isn’t always necessary. An allergist / immunologist has specialized training and experience to accurately diagnose your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to help you or your child manage allergy symptoms and potentially keep your furry friends.
*Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey
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Pet allergy symptoms appear during or shortly after exposure to the animal. These symptoms may linger long after the animal is gone. This is because the dander remains in the air, on furniture or on your clothing.
If you experience the following symptoms after being near a dog or cat, you may have an allergy:
• Itchy, watery eyes
• Runny nose
If you are exposed to a pet on a long-term basis, you may have more chronic symptoms such as ongoing nasal congestion and not the sudden symptoms seen with short-term exposure, making it appear as if the pet is not causing you problems.
Additionally, contact with a pet may trigger skin allergy symptoms including itchy skin or raised, red patches (hives). Pets can also trigger asthma symptoms, causing wheezing, difficulty breathing or chest tightness.
You or your doctor may suspect you have a pet allergy, but allergy testing performed by an allergist / immunologist is the best method to diagnose exactly what you are allergic to and to develop a personalized plan to manage your symptoms.
The most effective way to manage pet and other allergic rhinitis symptoms is to avoid the allergen(s) causing the symptoms.
Antihistamines and other over-the-counter allergy medications may help relieve symptoms, but they are not ideal as a long-term treatment.
If you have a pet allergy, talk to your allergist / immunologist about the potential for allergy shots (immunotherapy). Allergy shots have a proven track record as an effective form of long-term treatment.
Other ways to minimize pet allergy symptoms include:
• Try not to hug and kiss pets if you are allergic to them.
• Keeping pets out of your bedroom can reduce allergy symptoms since you spend about eight hours every day in this room. So can keeping your pet off of upholstered furniture.
• Have someone who doesn't have allergies brush the pet regularly—outside, not indoors.
• Use a double or micro-filter bag in the vacuum to reduce the amount of pet allergen present in carpeting that leaks back into the room air.
• Use HEPA air cleaners, which can be a big help in removing unwanted allergenic particles from the air.
• Remove carpeting and rugs, which can trap pet dander and other allergens.
Keeping animals outside is only a temporary solution, since pet dander will eventually make its way indoors as it is carried on clothing.
When all else fails, it may be necessary to find a new home for the pet. Then it may take six months or more after the pet is gone to completely get rid of the dander.