January 22, 2020

What Should You Know About Pet Allergies?

Eighty-five million families in the United States, or 67 percent of the country’s households, own at least one pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

Although pets are beloved members of their household, they can be much more difficult to live with when they are a source of allergies. Learn more about pet allergies and how to manage them.

What are the symptoms of pet allergies?

Believe it or not, any pet that has fur or feathers can cause allergies in many individuals. The most popular pets in the United States are dogs and cats, but other pets that can cause allergies include birds, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, and hamsters.

Pet allergies may look similar to other types of seasonal or environmental allergies. Common symptoms of pet allergies include:

  • Sneezing, runny, or stuffy nose
  • Nasal congestion, which may cause headaches or facial pain
  • Coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Skin rash or hives

Pets most often trigger allergies when a person breathes in or touches the allergen. A person may also experience certain symptoms, like itching or a rash, after being scratched by an animal they are allergic to.

What causes pet allergies?

Many people believe that only a pet’s fur or hair causes allergies. However, a person’s allergies can also be triggered by a pet’s skin, saliva, urine, and feces. Furry pets can also act as virtual dust mops, bringing in allergens like dust, mold spores and pollen from outside. Pet hair itself does not act as an allergen, but it acts as a carrier for substances that do cause allergic reactions.

A person may also be allergic to some of the materials used in caring for a pet. For example, a person may be allergic to the bedding in a hamster cage, an ingredient in pet food, or the hay that horses or guinea pigs eat.

A person who is allergic to a pet does not have to have direct contact with the animal to have a reaction. Just like humans, animals can shed flakes of skin and hair that get left behind in various areas of the house. Even when the pet is no longer in the room, they can still leave behind dander, which can trigger allergies when someone comes into contact with it.

The substances that a pet leaves behind also can deteriorate into even smaller particles. These particles can then get into the house’s heating or air-conditioning systems, which can recirculate them throughout the house, and all year.

Many people may be allergic to their own pets without realizing it. A person with constant allergy symptoms may not necessarily attribute it to their pet. Many people who receive allergy testing are surprised to learn that they are highly allergic to their pets. Because of daily pet exposure, they may not notice the symptoms or attribute them to the animal.

A person will usually experience allergy symptoms for as long as they are exposed to the allergen. Someone who does not have a pet of their own may be more likely to notice the increase in allergy symptoms when they are around an animal they are allergic to.

If you have pet allergies, you may be more sensitive to certain breeds of cat or dog than others, or you may be equally allergic to all breeds of a particular animal. Keep in mind, however, there is no truly “hypoallergenic” cat or dog. Likewise, getting a “hairless” cat is unlikely to prevent allergies if the allergens are also present in their skin and saliva.

How to treat animal or pet allergies

If you are allergic to a particular type of animal, the best treatment is to limit exposure to them. However, if your pet is considered a member of your family, this may not be a viable option.

Other measures may help reduce symptoms without removing the pet from your home. These include:

  • Bathing pets regularly
  • Using air filters in bedrooms and living areas
  • Keeping pets out of bedrooms
  • Regularly dust and vacuum
  • Change air filters frequently

Several types of over-the-counter medications can help you feel better around your pets. These include:

  • Antihistamines, which can prevent or reduce the sneezing and itching you may experience from your allergies
  • Oral or nasal decongestants, which help relieve sinus pressure or stuffiness
  • Intranasal corticosteroids, which are some of the most effective allergy treatments and can help reduce nasal congestion and runny nose

When to see an allergist for pet allergies

The best way to know for sure what is causing your allergies is to get a skin test at an allergy specialist’s office. This type of test involves placing a small amount of an allergen under the surface of your skin. The specialist monitors you for signs of a reaction, such as redness or swelling, which indicate an allergy. Most results appear in 15 - 30 minutes.

Allergy testing is a good idea even if you are certain that an animal is causing your symptoms. You may be surprised by the results. Other allergens, such as pollen brought inside on a cat or dog’s fur, may be the true cause of your symptoms.

Once you know for sure what allergies you have, further treatment may help your symptoms. Allergy shots or drops may help build up resistance to pet allergies. When there is already constant exposure to the pets, however, this treatment may not be entirely effective.

If you’re struggling to manage your pet allergies without removing your furry or feathered friend from the home, it may be time to visit an allergy expert. The team at Aspire Allergy & Sinus is ready to help! Contact us today to schedule your first appointment.

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