Pet allergies are allergic reactions, such as coughing, wheezing and sneezing, that some people have around certain animals. Pet allergies are a common problem for children and adults, and they can make life miserable for those who are susceptible to the condition.
Pet allergies are usually triggered by animal hair and dander, the dead skin cells that pets shed regularly. Cats, dogs, ferrets, hamsters, birds and other warm, fuzzy creatures have dander. Anything with dander can potentially cause unpleasant physical reactions in people who are predispositioned to allergies.
Interestingly, it is not the pet hair or dander itself that causes allergic reactions. Pet allergies are actually caused by certain proteins that are found in animal skin cells, hair, saliva and urine. These allergy-producing proteins, called allergens, are very small and easily airborne. This explains why some people develop allergies simply by walking into a room, even if there is no pet in sight.
For many people, direct contact with an allergy-causing animal triggers allergy symptoms. Pet allergens may cause nasal, respiratory or skin symptoms. People who are allergic to pets must reduce their exposure to animals, or avoid them altogether, to minimize the symptoms and prevent adverse reactions.
Common Symptoms of Pet Allergies
The signs and symptoms of pet allergies are similar to those of the common cold, hay fever and other seasonal allergies. The common symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, facial pressure and cough. For some people, allergies may cause the nose, mouth or throat to itch. Pet allergens may also cause swollen or dark-colored skin beneath the eyes.
Asthma Symptoms of Pet Allergies
For asthma sufferers, pet allergies may contribute to their symptoms. Asthma is a medical condition that causes the airways to narrow, swell and produce mucus. The condition can make breathing very difficult, and it has life-threatening potential. Those who experience asthma symptoms from pet allergies often suffer chest pain or tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. These symptoms may cause sleep problems as well.
Skin Symptoms of Pet Allergies
Pet allergens may cause skin symptoms in some people. Called allergic dermatitis, the skin symptoms occur from an immune system reaction that causes the skin to swell. Inflammation, itching, red patches and hives are the most common signs of allergic dermatitis. These skin symptoms result from direct contact with allergy-causing animals.
Coping with Pet Allergies
Not everyone in a household or family is allergic to pets. Some people inherit a predisposition to pet allergies or other allergies. Asthma increases the risk of developing pet allergies. Fortunately, there are many ways to cope with this problem.
Avoiding allergy-causing animals is the first line of defense for people who are allergic to pets. The allergic reactions are much less severe for people who minimize their exposure to pet hair, dander and other animal allergens.
Allergy symptoms will not immediately subside when allergic people find new homes for their pets. Additionally, not everyone is willing to give up their pets. For those who choose to live with their allergies, there are several medical and lifestyle treatments available.
Medical Treatment for Pet Allergies
After doctors confirm a pet allergy through skin and blood tests, they typically prescribe one or more medications to relieve the symptoms of pet allergies. These include antihistamines, corticosteroids, decongestants, cromolyn sodium and leukotriene modifiers. Immunotherapy and nasal lavage, a saline rinse, are additional pet allergy treatments.
Lifestyle Remedies for Pet Allergies
Simple home remedies and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward keeping pet allergies at bay. These include regular cleaning of the home, upholsteries, carpets and bedding. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air duct filters and vacuum cleaner bags trap allergens and reduce dander. Regular pet baths also minimize allergens, and keeping outdoor pets is another option.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that may indicate an allergy to pets, seek medical guidance from your doctor to identify the specific causes and potential solutions.
Author: Michelle Holincheck, FNP