Pet allergies bother about 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), and among those with asthma, the rate is higher: 20 to 30 percent. Are you allergic to your pet? To determine if your dog or cat is to blame for itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion, the first step is to consult an allergist, a doctor specializing in allergy diagnosis, prevention and treatment.
Pet allergy symptoms. Congestion, cough, itchy nose or throat, runny nose and sneezing, are among the symptoms that may occur with pet allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other signs: pressure and/or pain around the sinus area, as well as puffy, red eyes. Red, itchy and dry patches of skin may appear in some cases. If any symptoms persist for more than a week, seek treatment. If difficulty breathing occurs, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Treatments. Limiting exposure to pet allergens is a starting point for treating pet allergy symptoms, but this can be difficult to achieve. An allergist may decide to treat the symptoms with medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids and/or allergy shots. Allergy shots are known also as immunotherapy. This type of treatment is long-term, with the shots administered over a period of about six months. After that, booster shots may be needed, usually about once a month for more than a year.
Environment changes. For many people suffering from pet allergies, the idea of parting with a family pet in order to alleviate symptoms is not an option. Making some changes around your home may help alleviate some allergy symptoms. Begin by designating your bedroom as a pet-free area, so that you can have several hours every night without exposure to pet allergens. Clean frequently, and vacuum daily. Removing pet dander by cleaning and vacuuming can help reduce allergens. Use air/fabric sprays with allergen reducers on curtains, rugs and furniture fabrics. Wash pet bedding weekly and, when possible, have other family members handle that task.
Pet handling. It is always smart to wash your hands after playing with your pet, but when you suffer from pet allergies, it is imperative. In addition, when playing with your pet, never touch your hands to your face, eyes or nose. Instead of allowing your cat to snuggle on your lap, place a blanket down first. The blanket will keep dander and fur away from your clothes and skin and can easily be tossed in the washing machine. Have another family member change the litter, feed the dog and give pets frequent baths.