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Pet Allergies: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

If you own a cat, dog, or any type of pet, you can't imagine life without them. Pets are our companions, confidants, and comrades. Life is just better when you have one in your home. However, if you or a family member suffer from pet allergies, your friend can cause significant problems.

According to statistics from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, almost 62% of households have pets, with over 161 million total cats and dogs. Considering that about 50 million people in the United States suffer from some form of allergies, there is bound to be trouble.

Fortunately, with a little knowledge and due diligence, you can control indoor pet allergens and reduce the chances of an allergic reaction.

boy with pet allergies

Common Symptoms of Pet Allergies

The first step is understanding the symptoms of a pet allergy. Whether you are the one suffering from the condition or you have a child who struggles near pets, understanding the symptoms is the first step to identifying pet allergies.

Allergies are essentially the body's immune system fighting against substances that are otherwise harmless. The overactive immune system sends antibodies that attack the "invader," causing a wide variety of issues.

sneezing from pet allergies

There are many different reactions to animal allergies, but most of the time it is marked by issues resembling seasonal hay fever, such as sneezing, coughing, and eye irritation. This is because pet allergies are often caused by pet dander, which are tiny flakes of skin cells shed by the animals. If someone is allergic to this substance, it causes problems in the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs. Itchy eyes are a common symptom of pet allergies, and allergy sufferers will often have a plugged nose, coughing, wheezing, and other cold-like symptoms.

Dander landing on the skin can also cause irritations. If someone is allergic to animal dander, they can have itchy skin or even break out into rashes. It's also possible to have allergic reactions if a pet scratches or licks your skin. In this case, you will likely notice a rash or irritation directly on the spot of contact.

Symptoms of a pet allergy can come quickly, in as little as a few minutes, or they can take hours to appear. Most people will, however, notice flare-ups almost immediately after coming into contact with a cat or dog.

allergy test

Diagnosing Pet Allergies

While you can observe the symptoms of pet allergies, it takes a trained doctor to diagnose the condition. In general, there are two tests that are used to identify pet allergies: an allergy skin prick test and an intradermal test. There are also blood tests, but the first two generally give fast, accurate results and are less expensive to perform.

Allergy Skin Prick Test

During this test, your doctor or an allergy expert will prick your skin's surface and place a tiny amount of allergen on the scratch. For accuracy, the doctor often tests multiple allergens. You'll also be pricked with a control solution with no allergies, which acts as a control for testing.

Intradermal Skin Test

The other type of test is an intradermal skin test, which injects potential allergens under the skin. If you are allergic to the substance, red, itchy bumps will appear. This test is considered more sensitive for detecting allergies than skin prick tests, but it can cause more false positives (a reaction that is not an allergic reaction).

If you are unable to receive one of these tests, a blood test can be performed. In this case, blood will be drawn and sent to a lab for screening. The results take longer, but there is no risk of an allergic reaction.

How to Control Pet Allergies?

Pets may be your best friend in the whole world, but if you suffer from allergies, they can also be your biggest daily nuisance. Fortunately, you don't have to get rid or your furry friend; you can simply follow some of these helpful tips to reduce allergen exposure.

The first step should be to keep dogs and cats from couches, chairs, beds, and all other furniture. Wherever pets lay, they will inevitably leave some dander behind; if they are laying on the furniture, they will shed dander right where you want to relax. Train your pets to stay off of furniture, both for your own personal wellbeing and for the condition of your couches and chairs.

You likely spend as much as 9 or 10 hours in your bedroom every night, so if your room is full of pet dander, you're exposing yourself to a consistent, prolonged contact with allergens. To help reduce exposure, keep pets out of the bedroom at all times.

General cleaning is also an important part for controlling pet allergies. You don't have to obsess over cleaning, but general dusting, vacuuming, and wiping down surfaces will help get rid of much of the pet dander. Consider general cleaning about once a week to reduce allergens in the home.

It may also help to restrict pets to rooms with hard floors, such as tile and hardwood. Carpet can act as a trap for allergens, including dust, dirt, and pet dander, but if your pet sheds over hardwood, it is generally easier to clean.

If your pet does have contact with furniture or fabrics, vacuum and wash them frequently. From throw rugs to couch cushions, consistent cleaning will help you reduce household pet dander.

Bathing your pet is another way to reduce allergens. Giving your pet a nice wash once a week is a good way to reduce dander, as excess skin cells are rinsed away, not shed on the floor or furniture.

You could also consider using an air purifier with a  high efficiency air filter and a strong motor in your home. High efficiency air filters trap microscopic allergens and provide cleaner air for your home. They can be especially useful when placed inside a room where an allergy sufferer spends most of his or her time. 

Long-Term Effects of Exposure

Short-term exposure to allergens is bad enough, but if you have prolonged exposure to allergens like pet dander, it can cause significant, long-term harm to your overall health. Sinus infections, for example, can occur if you are constantly dealing with pet allergies. Bacterial and fungal infections can occur if allergic reactions cause a general weakness in the overall immune system.

It's also possible to have a lung disease from long-term allergy exposure. If you have prolonged, heavy exposure to an allergen, it's possible to develop chronic lung inflammation, which can disrupt your ability to breath clearly.

Early Exposure to Pets: Does it Make a Difference?

There is a lot of speculation (but not enough proof) on what actually causes allergy development in the first place.

Why does someone develop an allergic reaction to common, otherwise-harmless substances like pollen or pet dander while other people do not?

One study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy sought to gain insight on whether having a pet in the home during childhood has any effect on the development of pet allergies. Researchers conducted surveys on 18-year-olds, asking questions about pet allergies and whether or not they had pets in the home.

Findings showed that having a pet in the home during the first year of life could significantly reduce the chances of allergy development.

mom daughter dog

Does Poor Air Impact Pet Allergies?

The prevalence of allergic rhinitis is increasing, and this increase is seen mostly in developing countries. There may be many factors that contribute to the increase, but it's generally believed that a vast majority of the problem is caused by air pollution. This begs the question: how, if at all, are air pollution and allergies connected?

While there doesn't appear to be many studies connecting air pollution and pet allergies specifically, there has been research linking air pollution and allergies in general, including allergic rhinitis, which is an allergy to an airborne substance. (Pollen and pet allergies are in the category of allergic rhinitis. According to a review of research on allergies and air pollution, allergies can be increased by heavy levels of car exhaust, which increases airway responsiveness.

In other words, air pollution from vehicles can make the airways extra sensitive to allergens like pet dander. The review cited studies conducted on children living near roadways that found increased chances for runny noses and sneezing during the first year of life. Another study in the review found that exposure to certain airborne chemicals increases the chance of allergic rhinitis.

Are Hypoallergenic Pets the Solution?

If you are thinking about getting a pet but are concerned about allergies, you have likely considered a "hypoallergenic" cat or dog. However, a 100% hypoallergenic pet (one that gives off absolutely no allergens whatsoever) actually does not exist.

But don't be disheartened; there are pets that give off fewer allergens than most. According to the American Kennel Club, certain dog breeds, such as many terriers, spaniels, and schnauzers, shed less dander, making them great options for people with allergies. For cats here are some tips for living with cat allergies.

Breathe Easy With Oransi

You can maintain a home with less pet allergies and few problems for allergy sufferers.

Contact us and we'll help you select the perfect air purifier for your pet needs. From large offices to small bedrooms, our large selection of purifiers will help you breathe easier, no matter what your airborne allergy.