In South Florida we are blessed with warm and sunny weather with little air pollution, but we are not exonerated from airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, dust mites and also pet dander.
Because June is pet adoption month and because we will never get tired of saying one more time that if you have allergies to pets you don’t have to put your companions up for adoption, we have asked our own Dr. Sharlene Llanes to help us navigate pet allergies.
Dr. Llanes: A pet allergy, like any other allergy, is an immune system response to a protein it has encountered that the body has interpreted as foreign and overreacts to combat it. In the case of pet allergies, the guilty protein can be found in the animal’s dander, or loose skin flakes that the animal sheds, saliva and/or urine. These proteins stick to bedding, clothing and upholstered furniture. It is important to also note that there is no such thing as hypoallergenic dogs or cats because, contrary to popular belief, people are not allergic to animal’s hair.
Dr. Llanes: Typical symptoms can mimic the ones of hay fever or rhinitis, chiefly sneezing, congestion, coughing and wheezing, eczema or rashes, runny nose, itchy, swollen eyes and throat, itching of the skin or hives. These symptoms may occur within minutes or build 8 to 12 hours after contact; this is when consulting an allergist is necessary. The most effective way to fight the symptoms is to remove the pet and avoid contact: keeping an animal outdoors is only a partial solution. Before deciding to adopt a pet, spend time with someone else’s pet to determine if you’re allergic, even consider one without fur or feathers. If you already have an animal, try to place it with a caring family. PLEASE NOTE: if symptoms are severe and evolve in asthma attacks and hospitalization, stricter measures must be taken prioritizing the health of the patient.
Dr. Llanes: consult the allergist. Simple blood tests and/or skin prick tests can be run by your allergist to quickly identify the culprit and determine the best course of treatment. Before introducing a new furry animal visit an allergist/immunologist, the specialist expert in testing and diagnosing allergies and asthma. There is no trial and error or suspecting, make sure that there are no allergies detected.
Dr. Llanes: Follow the doctor’s prescriptions and instructions:
• When mild symptoms are present: anti-histamines and nasal sprays
• The most effective treatment is immunotherapy (allergy shots) that helps the body desensitize over a period of time. “Immunotherapy (allergy shots) enables patients to have a better quality of life and allows them to enjoy their environment and their pets without having to constantly rely on medications,” said Dr. Sharlene J. LLanes.
• Do not allow the animal in the bedroom or on upholstered furniture
• Add bleach when washing clothing or bedding
• Cover mattress and pillows with hypoallergenic cases
• Use HEPA room air cleaners and a HEPA vacuum filter or double bags
• Limit carpeted surfaces, opt for hardwood and tiles
• Substitute upholstery furniture for leather
• Bathe animals regularly
• Did you know that animal dander is one of the most common allergens in the US? To give you an idea, 62% of households have an indoor pet and animal allergens may be found in 90% of homes and public indoor areas, e.g., schools.
• The fur length of the pet doesn’t interfere with the allergic potential of the animal, however the longer the fur the more it can collect other airborne allergens such as pollen or dust.
• It is now known, but not scientifically proven, that in general cats are more allergenic than dogs and that
• Non-neutered male cats and dogs are more allergenic.
• At the beginning of the school year there’s a spike in asthma episodes, because children allergic to cats are reintroduced to the allergen that may not be present at home, but brought by their schoolmates.