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If you often get a stuffy nose or itchy eyes when you’re around cats or dogs, there’s a big chance that you have a pet allergy. About 3 in 10 people in the US suffer from pet allergies, particularly to cats and dogs, according to
What is a Pet Allergy?
When someone has a pet allergy, that person’s immune system abnormally reacts to the proteins in a pet’s dander, urine or saliva. The immune system usually attacks harmful viruses and bacteria but in the case of allergies, it becomes oversensitive and sees harmless substances as an invader. The immune system then produces antibodies to attack them.
Contrary to what most people think, pet hair is not what causes the allergic reaction. It’s just that the dander, urine, and saliva stick to the pet’s hair. These also tend to collect other common allergens like dust mites. AirHonest notes that pet allergens are even smaller than dust, so they can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Rodents, rabbits and other animals with fur can also potentially cause allergies. Animals without fur rarely cause allergies, according to Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of Pet Allergy
Pet allergy usually affects the skin, eyes and the respiratory system. An allergic reaction might appear within seconds to 30 minutes of being exposed to the allergen. Sometimes, it will take hours or days before symptoms appear if the person’s sensitivity level is low. Here are the common symptoms:
· Nasal congestion
· Runny nose
· Watery eyes
· Facial pressure or pain
· Interrupted sleep or trouble sleeping
· Swelling around the eye area
· Rubbing of the nasal area in a child
· Difficulty breathing
· Chest tightness
· Itchy skin
· Hives or rashes
· Asthma attack (for people with asthma)
In very rare cases, pet allergies may cause anaphylaxis. This is a severe reaction to an allergen that causes life-threatening symptoms. Symptoms are severe when it affects more than one part of the body, when it causes your blood pressure to drop dangerously, and when it becomes difficult for you to breathe. People who experience an anaphylactic reaction feel a sense of doom.
Cat allergens may trigger acute asthma attacks in about 3 in 10 people who suffer from asthma. This can also result in chronic asthma, according to AAFA. Sinus infections are another possible complication of pet allergies because it causes inflammation in the nasal passages.
With pet allergies, the symptoms may still occur long after the pet has left the area. This is because pet allergens linger on furniture, surfaces, linens, and clothing longer. The allergens will continue to pose a threat if you don’t clean them quickly
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If not done thoroughly with an efficient vacuum and damp cloth, the allergens may also be released to the air. These then become airborne.
How is Pet Allergy Diagnosed?
If you experience any of the above symptoms after coming into contact with pets, it would be best to see an allergist. An allergist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing allergies.
Pet allergies may be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms may resemble other illnesses like colds or sinusitis. However, allergies tend to persist. An allergist will be able to assess you based on your history and symptoms. A simple skin-prick test or blood test may be used to confirm whether you have a pet allergy.
Treatment for Pet Allergy
There is no cure for allergies at present. Science is yet to come up with a solution for getting rid of allergies entirely. The best treatment for pet allergy is still prevention through avoidance. You need to avoid getting into contact with cats and dogs.
The medical community is also recently exploring immunotherapy for pet allergies, but it has not yet been proven to work. Immunotherapy is based on the concept of introducing allergens to desensitize the immune system. Studies show that this may help in fighting respiratory allergic diseases in people with pet allergies.
Allergists prescribe antihistamines and steroids to treat mild allergic reactions. When the reaction is severe, epinephrine injection is administered. Emergency care is needed even after a shot is given and the severe symptoms have subsided because these can recur.
How to Manage Pet Allergies When You Can’t Live Without Your Pet
If you can’t live without your cat or dog, here are ways to manage your allergy:
- Consider getting a hypoallergenic breed. There are no hypoallergenic pets. With dogs, what they refer to as hypoallergenic are those that don’t shed as much hair as double-coated dogs. Remember that pet allergens stick to the pet’s fur or hair, so the more hair they have, the more they’re likely to cause allergies.
- Restrict areas where your pets roam around.Keep your bedroom pet-free. It will be harder to keep up with cleaning up pet’s hair when they roam around freely in your home. It would be good to have a pet playpen.
- Wash beddings and covers in hot water.To get rid of allergens including dust and dander, wash your linens in hot water. Carpets should be steam-cleaned as often as possible.
- Wear a dust mask when cleaning. Every time you vacuum, wipe surfaces, or sweep the floor, wear a dust mask to protect yourself from allergens that become airborne. Use a damp cloth when wiping surfaces to prevent stirring up of allergens.
- Clean all surfaces. Remember that allergens can linger on areas that you don’t frequently clean like walls, doors and window frames. Clean these with a damp cloth.
- Use an air purifier with HEPA filter. This will help get rid of airborne pet allergens.
Pet Allergy Prevention
When you have a family history of allergy and/or asthma, it increases your chances of developing a pet allergy. These risk factors can’t be changed. The good news is, recent research shows that early exposure to a potential allergen can help prevent allergies. Living with a cat or a dog for the first year of life may decrease a person’s risk.