Animal dander may now be the most common year-round allergen. In the US, 62% of households now have an indoor pet, with 40% having at least one dog and 33% having at least one cat. Furthermore small, suspended, animal allergens may be found in 90% of all homes and in most public indoor areas, e.g., schools and work environments. Patients with severe allergies to animal dander can even experience reactions in public places if dander has been transported on pet owners’ clothing.
Contact with Animals During Infancy
The effects of early life domestic pet exposure and subsequent clinical allergy remain controversial. While some studies suggest that having pets in the home when the child is born reduces the future development of pet allergy, many studies show exactly the opposite. It seems that many factors (e.g. allergies in the parents, number of pets in the community, urban vs. rural setting, number of pets, number of siblings, etc.) may affect this tendency to become allergic. The bottom line is that we just don’t know what will happen, but given an allergic family history we would not recommend getting a pet in hopes that this would prevent future allergies from developing.
Typical signs of animal allergy can include sneezing, an itchy, runny nose, and itchy, swollen eyes and throat. Itching of the skin or a raised, red rash (hives) can also result from touching an animal to which you are allergic. Usually, symptoms will occur quickly, sometimes within minutes after exposure to the animal. For some people, symptoms may build and become most severe 8 to 12 hours after they have had contact with the animal.
How to Fight the Symptoms
The most effective way to combat symptoms of animal allergy is to remove the pet from the home and avoid any contact. Keeping an animal outdoors is only a partial solution, since homes with pets in the yard still have higher concentrations of animal allergens. Before you get a pet, spend time with someone else’s dog or cat to determine if you’re allergic. If you already have an animal to which you or a family member is allergic, try to place it with a caring, non-allergic friend or relative. Although this separation can be difficult, it is best for the health of you or your allergic family member. You may also consider getting a pet such as a turtle, hermit crab, fish, snake, or other animals without fur or feathers.
What if you can’t part ways with your furry friend? Stay tuned for next post and read what Dr. Dana Wallace is suggesting …