The Animal Allergy Sufferers’ Guide To Living With Pets
At Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida, we have a lot of patients come through our doors who are desperate for relief from their chronic pet-allergy symptoms but who are also distraught over the prospect of losing their furry best friends. Many allergy sufferers believe that the only way to be free of allergies is to sterilize their homes and live in a sort of bubble-type environment, devoid of any contact with pets. While it is true that some people with severe allergic disease may be required to remove animals from their home, our allergy specialists can work with you to develop a strategy that eases your allergy symptoms and may also allow you to keep your furry friends.
Read on for some easy tips to start reducing your allergy symptoms.
Get Tested For Allergies to Know Your Allergy Triggers
First and foremost, you need to understand the real triggers behind your, or your children’s, runny nose, wheezing, itchy eyes, and other uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
Everyone’s biochemistry is different and even if a family member has a specific allergy to pets, it does not mean you will have the same allergy or even the same severity of the allergy. An allergy skin test is performed under a doctor’s supervision and usually takes minutes to receive the results. There’s a few different tests your allergist may use to determine your specific allergies:
- Skin Prick: As the name implies, your skin (usually on the back or arms) is lightly pricked with a special medical stylet resembling a toothpick. The stylets deliver tiny amounts of allergen extracts to the upper layer of your skin. If you are allergic to one of the tested allergens, your skin will develop a small bump or welt in that area, usually within 10-15 minutes. The skin prick test can detect allergies for common triggers like pollen, house dust, mold, pet dander, and foods.
- Intradermal testing: Depending on the person, an intradermal skin test may be needed to detect specific allergies. This type of test simply injects a tiny amount of allergy extract into the top layer of skin, just below the surface and slightly deeper than the skin prick test. Like the skin prick test, results are obtained within minutes. Intradermal testing is used for allergies to pollen, house dust, mold, pet dander, insect stings and certain medications.
- Patch Test: Used to determine what substance(s) may be causing a person’s allergic skin reactions, also known as contact dermatitis. Unlike the above two tests, the patch test is a delayed skin test taking around 24-48 hours to produce a reaction. The benefit of a patch test is in the sheer number of different potential allergens that can be tested at once. Your doctor will apply a variety of patches laden with chemical extracts and then measure results upon your return.
- IgE Blood Test: This test measures the amount of allergic antibodies in a small sample of your blood. The antibodies are the body’s defense mechanism when it encounters an allergen and each antibody is produced for a specific substance. The blood test can determine common allergies in detail such as the particular type of tree pollen you’re allergic to. This test takes longer to return results than skin prick and intradermal tests.
Even though you can be allergic to multiple allergens, the severity of your allergies to different substances can differ greatly. For example, you may have a very mild allergy to pet dander and a much more robust allergic response to house dust. Your allergist will measure your immune system’s response to the various allergens so that you will know where to focus your environmental allergen reduction measures. Testing positive on a pet allergy test is not necessarily a reason to bid farewell to your cherished companion. We’ll explore some simple steps to mitigating symptoms if you’re allergic to your pet.
Get On A Clean Routine
Once armed with the knowledge of your specific allergens, living with pet allergies can be easier when you take a few proactive steps towards reducing the severity of your reactions. Keeping your house clean is by far the best preventative measure you can take to help mitigate future reactions. Below is a simple routine for affording you more allergy-free days.
- Wash Your Pet, Wash Yourself
You should aim to bathe your pet at least once a week. Not only will they smell better, bathing helps shed dander, as well as, dust and pollen stuck in their fur. The more allergens you can eliminate, the better. Also, washing your own hands after giving your pet a hearty belly rub will keep you from inadvertently rubbing your eyes full of the itching, burning bad stuff. When you’re outside, your hair, skin, and clothing are receiving a nice dose of pollen and dust. Make sure to wash yourself and your clothing regularly to rinse these allergens away.
- Vacuum Often
Keeping floors clean, especially those in the bedroom, will drastically reduce dust, pollen, dander, and mites lurking in fabrics in the room. The best course is to avoid carpets altogether, but if you do have any carpet or other fabric that traps dust and dander (think drapes, pillows, or furniture), make sure you’re vacuuming and/or washing these regularly to prevent build-up.
- Use an Air Filter in the Bedroom & Dehumidifier in Bathroom
These two healthy-air mainstays will cost you less than $100 on Amazon. Make sure to get an air filter with HEPA status and run it for at least a few hours every day. On the same vein, make sure to change your home’s AC filter at least every 90 days. The higher the MERV rating, the more allergens the filter can remove from the air. In a wet, humid environment like your bathroom, mold and mildew can quickly take root and multiply if the room doesn’t dry out quickly. These fungi can exacerbate your existing allergies, simply adding to the severity/frequency of reactions. A small dehumidifier in your bathroom can efficiently bring moisture levels down to safe levels (experts recommend 40-60% humidity).
- Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Just Not In Your Bed
As tempting as it can be to pamper your pet by letting them on your bed, letting Fido curl up on your pillow is like rubbing your face in pollen. The pet dander will easily rub into your eyes, can be inhaled, and will wreak havoc on your system if you have pet allergies. Best bet? Separate bedrooms for you and your pet. Also make sure to wash their bedding regularly.
Living with pet allergies can be tough if you don’t take steps to alleviate the allergen sources. Simply by getting into a routine of cleaning your pet and your living environment can greatly reduce the length and severity of future reactions.
Immunotherapy & Other Treatment Plans
For those who still need allergy relief, there are many different medications and treatment plans available over the counter or by a doctor’s prescription to put pesky allergy symptoms to rest.
Non-Drug Allergy Treatment Options
Non-drug options include treatments like saline nasal sprays and Neti pots that irrigate nasal passages and thereby expel the allergens. Natural remedies such as acupuncture and essential oil diffusers may offer some relief and many users swear by their positive, holistic effects (placebo or not, if it works for you, use it). As with most treatments, for the best results, these should be used consistently and also as part of a greater allergen-reduction game plan.
Over-the-counter Allergy Medications
Almost every corner drug store will carry a bevy of anti-histamine and other allergy meds for combating seasonal allergies. The powerful steroid nasal sprays can be very effective in unclogging your nose and easing sinus pressure.
Immunotherapy is the ultimate in allergy treatments. If medications cannot control your allergies or if you simply wish to avoid medication use, then your doctor may recommend a course of allergen immunotherapy. Immunotherapy seeks to retrain the immune system to tolerate environmental allergens, such as cat or dog dander. The most common type of immunotherapy for allergies comes in the form of an injection called subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT). With SCIT, you will receive the very allergenic proteins to which are allergic. Your doctor will gradually increase the amount of allergen being injected so that your body builds its own defenses over several months. Besides reducing your allergy symptoms, SCIT can reduce overall inflammation, treat for multiple allergens at once, reduce the need for medications and also prevent future allergies from developing.The goal of SCIT is to give you long lasting, if not permanent, relief from your allergy symptoms.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense
Step one for developing your defensive strategy is talking to your doctor about getting tested for the specific allergic triggers making you miserable. Pet-allergy testing can quickly determine specifics like dog versus cat or dander versus saliva.
Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can develop your own clean routine to greatly reduce the symptoms of even your worst pet-allergies.
As with most things in life, to be successful, consistency is key. Once you get in the habit of taking a proactive approach towards treating your pet allergies, the work to maintain will come easy. Best of all, you get to keep your best friend by your side.
The knowledgeable and friendly staff at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida focus on helping patients suffering from pet allergies and other allergy and asthma conditions. We’ll help pinpoint your exact allergies and then work with you to develop a custom game plan that helps you break through your allergy symptoms and find relief.
Ready to talk to an allergist? We have four convenient locations around Jacksonville to serve you. To schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 904-730-4870 or make an appointment online today!