Everything You Need To Know About Pet Dander Allergy

According to a 2019-2020 survey conducted by APPA, almost 67% of households in the United States have a pet in them. This equates to 84.9 million households! Sadly, a significant number of pet owners have an allergic reaction to their animals, one of which is pet dander allergy.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary for you to give up your pet to prevent allergy symptoms. A visit to an expert allergist/immunologist who can diagnose your condition and help develop a treatment plan is all you need in most cases. Continue reading to learn more about pet dander allergy.

Table of Contents

What Is Pet Dander?

If you have a pet with fur or feathers like a dog, cat, bird, or rodent, you’re probably very familiar with pet dander. It’s those super tiny, sometimes even microscopic, flecks of skin that such furry and feathery animals shed. These flecks can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Allergy triggers, also known as allergens, aren’t just present in the skin of animals. The proteins found in the saliva, feces, and urine of pets can be a cause of allergic reactions in some people. Most allergies are caused by Fel d I protein from cats and Can f I and II proteins from dogs.

It’s also worth mentioning that dried saliva that contains allergy triggers or allergens can flake off from the fur of the animal, becoming airborne. If inhaled by an allergic individual, it can cause an allergic reaction. Also, note that dust from dried feces can cause allergy in the same way.

What Is Pet Dander Allergy?

Pet allergy, generally, is an allergic reaction to the proteins present in one of three things: saliva, urine, and skin cells. Pet dander allergy is associated with the proteins found in an animal’s skin cells. Signs of a pet allergy are similar to that of hay fever, such as a runny nose and sneezing.

Pet allergens are extremely light and, sometimes, microscopically small. Such allergens tend to stay suspended in the air for quite a while, longer than the allergens that cockroaches and dust mites tend to release. Pet allergens tend to easily stick to furniture, fabrics, and so forth.

Animal dander can spread very easily into every room within your home. Not only that, but it can also spread out to public places such as hospitals and schools. And considering its rapid rate of spreading, animal dander can be found in households or buildings that don’t house any pets.

Symptoms of Pet Dander Allergy

An allergic individual may notice pet allergy symptoms during or shortly after being exposed to a pet. And due to the fact that animal dander tends to remain in the air and easily stick to things, it can linger in the air of fabrics for quite some time even after the animal that’s causing it is gone.

If you come close to an animal and you experience sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, or runny nose, you may have a pet allergy. If you’re exposed to the animal on a long-term basis, it’s quite possible that you develop different chronic symptoms such as ongoing nasal congestion.

If you’re someone with asthma, pet allergy can contribute to your condition. You may experience chest tightness or pain, recognizable wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling, coughing, and difficulty sleeping caused by shortness of breath. Symptoms may linger after the animal is gone.

People with pet allergies can undergo a pattern of skin symptoms called allergic dermatitis. This sort of dermatitis is an immune system reaction and often causes skin inflammation. Some of its symptoms include eczema, itchy skin, and raised patches of skin, also known as hives.

Risk Factors and Complications

Pet allergies aren’t uncommon at all, but it’s more common with people with allergies or asthma running in the family. It’s speculated that being exposed to animals at an early age can help you avoid pet allergies, as it develops resistance to upper respiratory infections through childhood.

One of the most prominent complications that are caused by animal allergies is sinus infections. It’s pretty much an ongoing inflammation of the tissues in the nasal passage, and it can possibly obstruct the cavities connected to your sinuses, resulting in bacterial infections like sinusitis.

Another complication that’s associated with pet allergy is asthma. People with asthma often find it hard to manage asthma symptoms if they have a pet allergy. Such individuals may be prone to asthma attacks. An asthma attack requires immediate emergency care or medical treatment.

Why Are Some People Pet Allergic?

As we previously mentioned, animal allergens are basically proteins that, when inhaled or are in contact with the skin of an allergic person, can provoke the body into releasing histamine, which results in the irritation and swelling of the upper airways, causing hay fever and skin symptoms.

It’s not really evident why some people develop animal allergies while others don’t. However, it’s noted that the tendency toward allergies is usually hereditary. People who’ve had bronchiolitis in their younger years in a household with pets have a higher risk of developing pet allergies.

The bottom line is that there seems to be a complex relationship between allergic reactions and the number of allergens that a kid is exposed to and at which age. Kids can sometimes outgrow allergy tendencies as they get older. Allergies can also go away and return in later years.

Some conflicting studies indicate that exposure to animals from an early age can be protective, but that tolerance to animal allergens can drop over time, and allergies can begin to develop. If you suspect pet allergy, stay away from your home for a few days till the symptoms disappear.

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Who Exactly Gets Allergies?

Did you know that allergies amongst the top leading causes of chronic illness in the US, ranking at number six? Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergy-related conditions each year, such as hay fever, hives, asthma eczema or atopic dermatitis, sinus infection, conjunctivitis, etc.

 

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a minimum of 20 million Americans of 18 years and older, in addition to 6.1 million children, were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis. Another 20 million were diagnosed with food, skin, and respiratory allergies.

 

To answer your question, the risk of developing allergic reactions is high if you’re someone who has asthma, has a family history of allergies or asthma, or is younger than 18 years old. It’s not uncommon for allergies to disappear all of a sudden and return again a few years later, too.

 

It’s also worth noting that you may have more than one allergy. For instance, if you’re someone who suffers from allergies, not necessarily pet allergy, your chances of developing other allergic reactions are four times higher than a person who doesn’t have any allergic tendencies.

 

Another thing worth noting is that more than 100 genes are associated with allergic inclinations, but only one or two of these genes tend to affect a given population. Some allergic genes affect the lungs and airway function, other allergic genes tend to affect the immune system

When Should You See A Doctor?

A lot of symptoms and signs associated with pet allergies are quite similar to those of a common cold, including sneezing and runny nose. This can make it hard for you to discern between colds and allergies. If the symptoms are still evident for more than two weeks, it could be an allergy.

 

So when exactly should you give your doctor a visit? If the symptoms start getting severe, such as having a completely blocked nasal passage or having difficulty sleeping, it’s time to see your doctor. Also, if your shortness of breath starts getting worse, seek emergency care right away.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Pet Allergy?

Are you someone who suffers from pet allergies or you’re someone who suspects having a pet allergy? Worry not, as an experienced allergist can provide a proper diagnosis and a treatment plan. The most common way of diagnosing an animal allergy is a skin-prick test.

 

To put this into perspective, let’s assume you’re someone who suspects having a cat allergy. A skin-prick test would involve the allergist taking a very small amount of cat allergen extract and placing it on your skin. Then, the allergist will prick your skin with a small, sterile probe.

 

The reason behind pricking your skin with a sterile probe is to allow the liquid to seep under the surface of your skin. Then, you’ll be monitored for allergic reactions such as redness or swelling. The results of the skin-prick test tend to become evident after 15-20 minutes from the test.

 

Another test that allergists often resort to diagnose pet allergy is a blood test. It’s often resorted to if the person to be diagnosed has some sort of skin condition or interactions with medications that prevent restoring to a skin-prick test. A blood test is remarkably quick and efficient.

 

In a blood test, your blood is screened for specific antibodies that are known to cause allergies, in addition to various other allergens that include different animals. The great thing about blood tests is that they can indicate exactly how sensitive you are to a specific allergen or antibody.

 

Even if you’re 100% certain that your symptoms are a result of an animal allergy, you need to go to an allergist to be tested because your symptoms may be caused by environmental exposures rather than exposure to animals. Don’t wait until the symptoms worsen and become severe.

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How Do You Treat Pet Dander Allergies?

When it comes to controlling pet allergy, the first line of defense is to avoid any contact or being in nearby proximity with any allergy-causing pet. By limiting your exposure to pet allergens, your allergic reactions are bound to be less severe. However, this can be a very challenging task.

Sometimes avoiding pet allergens isn’t very easy and may not even be enough. In this case, it’s highly likely that you’ll require medications in order to manage your allergy symptoms. There are quite a few allergy medications that your allergist can direct you to, including the following:

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are medications that are usually delivered as a nasal spray that serves to control the various symptoms of hay fever and reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids include fluticasone propionate, triamcinolone, mometasone furoate (Nasonex), and ciclesonide (Omnaris).

Corticosteroids are featured in two variations: nasal corticosteroids and oral corticosteroids. The former provides a much lower dosage of the drug than the latter, meaning that it has a lower risk of side effects than oral corticosteroids. For pet allergies, the nasal variant is what you need.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines, as the name implies, is a medication that minimizes the production of histamine, which is the immune system chemical active in allergic reactions. This medication can help limit and relieve hay fever symptoms such as a runny nose, itching, watery eyes, and sneezing.

Nasal antihistamines include olopatadine (Patanase) and azelastine (Astelin, Astepro), whereas over-the-counter tablets include loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy), and cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy). There are also over-the-counter syrups available for children.

Decongestants

Decongestants serve as a means of shrinking the swollen tissues within your sinuses, making it easier for individuals with allergies to breathe through the nose. It’s worth noting that there are over-the-counter tablets that combine a decongestant with an antihistamine to treat allergy.

If you have glaucoma, cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure, you have to avoid taking oral decongestants. Over-the-counter nasal decongestants can help alleviate allergy symptoms, but if you use them for more than three days in a row, it can actually worsen your congestion.

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers serve as a means of blocking the action of specific chemicals in the immune system. If corticosteroid nasal sprays or antihistamines aren’t working for you, your doctor might prescribe the montelukast prescription tablet. There are a few side effects to this tablet, though.

The common side effects of montelukast are headache, fever, and upper respiratory infection. A few of the less common side effects include mood swings such as depression or anxiousness. If all of the above-mentioned medications fail, leukotriene modifiers will probably work for you.

Are There Other Pet Allergy Treatments?

There are two ways that you can go about treating pet allergies that are not rooted in medicine, with the first one being nasal irrigation. To do this, you’ll need a neti pot or a squeeze bottle to get rid of the irritants and thickened mucus trapped in your sinuses with a saline rinse.

 

If you’re going to prepare the saltwater solution yourself, you’ll need to employ contaminant-free water. To ensure that the water you’re using is free of contaminants, distill, sterile, boil, and then cool the water. Alternatively, you can filter it with a 1-micron pore size filter or smaller.

 

After each use, make sure you rinse your neti pot or squeeze bottle with water that’s free of any contaminants, and then air-dry it. Please note that nasal irrigation is just that. It won’t make your allergy symptoms disappear. It’s simply going to get rid of the irritants in your sinuses.

 

Immunotherapy is another way you can go about combating pet allergy. It revolves around the concept of training your immune system to be less and less sensitive to an allergen. Essentially, this is done through taking a series of immunotherapy shorts, or simply allergy shots.

 

Per week, you should take one to two shorts, which will help expose you to minute doses of the allergen you’re trying to be less allergic to, which in case of per allergy, is the animal protein that causes the allergic reaction. During a four to six-month period, the dose is gradually increased.

 

For three to five years, you’ll need to take maintenance shots every four weeks. Immunotherapy isn’t a simple one-time treatment. It takes time and patience, which is why it should be your final resort after all other simple treatments have failed to treat your allergic reactions.

Conclusion

Pets have been and always will be an integral part of our lives, but if you suspect that you might have a pet allergy, you need to keep your pets out of your room and off upholstered furniture. In addition, you need to wash your hands after coming in contact with your pets in any way.

 

Preventing pet dander allergy doesn’t mean that you should give up your pet. It means that you need to start taking steps towards limiting your exposure to pets and seeking medical help from an allergist or immunologist that can develop an effective treatment plan for you.

 

 

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