Do pet allergies have you wheezing and sneezing -- again? Well, there are
over 132 million good reasons for that.
That's the number of cats and dogs living in U.S. homes as of 2002, says the
American Veterinary Medical Association. And while these four-legged friends
are by far the most common companion animals in America, they aren't the only
creatures behind the exasperating symptoms of pet allergies.
It wouldn't be a family car trip without Fido, but if you want everyone who's along for the ride -- two-legged and four-legged -- to have fun, you need to do some prep work.
"People just jump in the car and think they are prepared," says animal behaviorist Kristen Collins, MS, CPDT, with the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center. "But preparation needs to start as far in advance as you know you are going on a trip."
You'll find pet dander on just about every warm and fuzzy critter we bring
in to our homes: from cats and dogs, to birds, hamsters, and ferrets. And just
about anything with dander has the potential to bring susceptible people down
with a suite of allergy symptoms, says allergist Asriani Chiu, MD.
But it's not a pet's hair, or even the flaky, dandruff-like dander itself,
that causes allergies. Instead "it's a specific protein in the dander that
people are allergic to," says Chiu, associate professor of pediatrics and
medicine (allergy/immunology) at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "With
any allergy, from hay fever to peanut allergies, it's always a protein in the
substance that you're reacting to."
Pet allergy-producing proteins -- called allergens -- are also found in your
pet's urine and saliva. Add to this the fact that these proteins are tiny,
easily airborne, and ubiquitous, and it explains why some people can develop
pet allergy symptoms simply by walking into an empty room.
What are the most common symptoms of pet allergies? "I get a stuffy nose
and runny eyes, very much like seasonal allergies," says Anthony Herrig, an
Oregon web developer with cat allergies. Other symptoms can range from mild --
itchy throat, nasal congestion, and sneezing -- to a more severe, asthma-like
response, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Why Pet Allergies Hit You
Usually, not everyone in a family or household is allergic to pets.
Just as you have your mom's smile or dad's laugh, you may have inherited your
family's genetic predisposition to allergies. Add to this a higher risk of
developing allergies to pets if you have other allergies or asthma, and it's
clear why you may be alone in your congestion. What's not clear just
yet, says Chiu, is why one person can have mild symptoms, while another is laid
low with an acute, asthma-like response.
Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to manage pet allergies -- no matter
how they affect you. But before you try the following tips, it's a good idea to
make sure you really are allergic to dander. If you're not positive you are
allergic to dogs, cats, or other pets, visit an allergist, who can help
identify which specific allergen is triggering your symptoms.
Tips to Help You Cope With Allergies and Pets
Though the best way to find relief from allergies is to avoid exposure to
what you're allergic to, you can have your precious pets and live well,
too. Allergists and pet allergy sufferers offer these tips: