Are You Allergic to Your Dog?

It’s been said that dogs are man’s best friend, and they truly are amazing companions. Owning a dog decreases anxiety and loneliness, makes people more social and less isolated, and may even improve cognitive function and cardiovascular health. But what about allergies? If you’re allergic to your dog, does it mean you have to give up your best friend?

Let’s look at some statistics about dog allergies. Data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America indicates that between 15 and 30 percent of Americans are affected by pet allergies. You’re more likely to be allergic to cats than dogs, because cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies. However, dog allergies typically cause more severe allergic reactions, particularly for people with asthma.

So how do you know if you have a dog allergy? The symptoms run the gamut from mild to severe, and people who are only mildly sensitive may not exhibit symptoms for several days after exposure to a dog. Symptoms include:

– There may be itching and swelling of the membranes inside the nose or around the eyes.

– Skin may redden after being licked by a dog.

– You may start coughing, wheezing, and feeling short of breath with in 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to a dog.

– A rash may appear on the chest, neck, or face.

– A person with asthma may have a severe asthma attack.

– Children may also develop eczema due to a dog allergy.

Common wisdom used to be that exposing a newborn to the family dog would make the child more likely to develop an allergy. The good news is that this is the opposite of what actually happens. Many recent studies have determined that exposing babies to pets doesn’t increase their risk of allergies and asthma and can actually protect the child from developing these conditions in the future.

To understand dog allergies and how to manage them, it’s important to first have a grasp of what causes pet allergies. You’re probably heard the term “pet dander” and what the refers to is the dead skin that animals shed. Dogs secrete certain proteins that end up in that dander, as well as in their saliva and urine. When a sensitive person’s immune system comes into contact with these usually harmless proteins, it causes an allergic reaction. Because different breeds produce different proteins, you can be allergic to one dog breed and not another. Pet hair can hold onto dust and pet dander, spreading allergens as it collects in carpets, on clothing, on the walls, and on the furniture. Pet dander can also remain airborne for a long time, eventually making its way into your eyes and lungs.

If you have dog allergies, does this mean you have to rehome your dog? Not necessarily. While removing the pet from your home is the only way to totally eliminate the allergens, there are steps you can take to minimize exposure and lessen your symptoms without giving away the family pet.

You can set up dog free zones. You might keep dogs out of the bedrooms, for example, or off of the furniture. If you live in a climate that lends itself to keeping your dog outside- in a well-contained, comfortable, humanely arranged area- you could keep your dog out of the house entirely.

Keep your dog clean. A weekly bath with a pet-friendly shampoo, performed by a person who is not allergic to the dog, will help keep dander under control.

Get rid of things that attract and hold onto dander. This includes carpeting, upholstered furniture, horizontal blinds, and curtains.

Up your clean air game. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your HVAC can help, and a HEPA air purifier is even better at minimizing airborne allergens.

Consider a hypoallergenic breed. No dog breed is 100 percent hypoallergenic, but there are several breeds that produce less dander than others or have a non-shedding coat.

Try out the dog before you get attached. Having a trial period to assess family members’ reactions can help you determine if a dog is the right choice for your family.

You can also manage allergies and asthma using medications. Antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, decongestants, and cromolyn sodium are all available over the counter, and can help respiratory symptoms. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) expose the body to the animal protein causing the reaction to reduce sensitivity and symptoms. Prescription medications called leukotriene modifiers are sometimes recommended for people who can’t antihistamines or corticosteroids. There are some risks, so it’s important to see a board certified allergist to determine which treatment is right for you.

Whenever you suspect you’re suffering from an allergy, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM. We’ll help you determine what you’re dealing with and how to manage it. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology and can help you identify triggers and learn to control your symptoms. Call 610-825-5800 or visit the website for an appointment, or to learn more about services available to help you with your allergies.