People love their pets like family and will gladly accept almost any sacrifice to have them as part of their lives – whether buying expensive food and toys, cleaning up dirty paw-prints on the rug, or replanting countless flowers dug up in the yard. But dealing with allergies to animals may be one sacrifice too many.
According to studies published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, up to 10 percent of the general population and 40 percent of allergic individuals react to cats and dogs, with cat allergies twice as common as dog allergies. Yet despite these statistics, approximately 50 percent of homes do have at least one dog or cat. There are actually many ways to help in managing pet-induced allergies without heading to the pharmacy.
If you suffer from allergies but still want to own a pet, here are a few tips for making the transition as successful and enjoyable as possible.
Understand the Cause of Allergies to Pets
The key to managing allergies to pets is understanding the root cause. Most people mistakenly believe that pet hair causes most pet allergies. In fact, it is the protein found in pet dander and/or pet saliva and urine that are the most likely causes of allergic reactions. Dander, or dead skin cells, flakes off regularly and can remain on carpet and furniture or linger in the air for up to 6 months. Likewise, saliva and urine are deposited on fur through licking and urination and can flake off when the hair dries.
These allergens cause a variety of reactions, ranging from mild to severe, which may include itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and even a rash. Individuals who suffer from asthma may experience difficulty breathing, chest tightness or pain, trouble sleeping due to cough and shortness of breath.
The good news about pet dander is that there is evidence pets actually help to prevent allergies in children. A study published by Clinical & Experimental Allergy has shown that if a child is exposed to pets before age 2, when the immune system is said to be fully-developed, they may never develop an allergy to that particular type of pet.
Managing Allergies to Pets
By understanding that dander is typically the root of allergies to pets, focusing on managing the dander can be an effective and natural way to suppress allergy symptoms.
In order to reduce the impact of pet allergens, take the following precautions:
1. Limit the places in your home in which the pet can visit; for example, close bedroom doors
2. Vacuum and clean regularly
3. Many physicians recommend using HEPA air filters, or those designed specifically to minimize airborne allergens in your home
4. Change filters in your heating and air-conditioning units and filters frequently
5. Bathe or groom your pet frequently
6. Wash your hands after playing with your pet
7. If your allergies are extreme and you are committed to owning a pet, eliminate any carpeting in your house that may hold on to pet dander and fur
If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from allergies but cannot imagine life without a pet, these few simple changes may make healthy co-existence possible.
Photo Credit: Aaron Wagner