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Pets: Your Secret Weapon Against Getting Allergies

Pets: Your Secret Weapon Against Getting Allergies

Sneezing every time Fluffy or Fido walks into the room might signal that you’ve developed an allergy to your beloved furry friend. If so, you are not alone. As many as 20% of Americans have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.

Allergies are increasingly common. Pet dander allergies are no exception. Does that mean you’re doomed to become allergic to your cat or dog if you spend too much time around them? Science has some surprising things to say about that possibility that might just shock you.

Before we let the cat out of the bag about this shocking revelation, we’ll address some of the most common questions about pet allergies, including:

What causes pet allergies?

Pet allergies are caused mostly by pet dander. It’s a term that gets tossed around  a lot, but what does it mean?

Dander is dead skin cells. We all shed them (even you). Allergy symptoms get provoked by very particular proteins found inside the dander. It's those proteins that cause you to sneeze, wheeze, develop a stuffy nose and/or a sinus headache.

The proteins are also found in your pet’s saliva and urine. However, you’re most likely to come into contact with pet dander because animals shed a slew of it every single day--on your carpets, clothing, and furniture.

Common pet allergy symptoms

Your body’s reaction to pet allergies varies depending on the severity of your allergy and your exposure rate. People living with pets to which they’ve become allergic may have prolonged and worsening symptoms.

Some common pet allergy symptoms include:

  • Dry cough
  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Postnasal drip
  • Red or swollen eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose

What’s the difference between pet allergies and other health conditions?

So, is that runny nose and dry cough the result of letting your puppy sleep in bed with you? Or is something else behind the symptoms?

Figuring out if you have pet allergies or another health condition that causes similar warning signs can be challenging. However, you can consider these factors to help you decide.

Triggers and timing

One of your biggest clues as to whether you’re experiencing pet allergies or something more serious is to pay attention to when your symptoms flare up.

If you’re dealing with pet allergies, then those itchy, red eyes, stuffy nose, and cough kick in shortly after contact with your favorite furry friends. The symptoms worsen with longer exposure and may lessen the more time you spend away from them.

On the other hand, if your throat suddenly feels sore and scratchy, you get a headache and feel stuffy, you likely have an upper respiratory condition like the common cold or the flu. These symptoms usually resolve within 7 to 10 days.

Persistence of symptoms

Pet allergies never get better if you have continued exposure to the protein that triggers them. You can treat them with medication, but as soon as you stop, they’ll flare back up again.

It’s the exact opposite with upper respiratory infections. Most viruses leave your system within 10 days. Some, like acute bronchitis, may take longer to resolve, but respond well to medications.

If you just can’t rid yourself of that nagging sinus headache or itchy eyes, it might be time to get tested for a pet allergy.

Response to allergy medication

This is a no-brainer, but it’s worth a mention. If you start to experience any of the symptoms common to pet allergies, start treating yourself with an over-the-counter medication designed to provide temporary relief.

Antihistamines work to counter a chemical created by your immune system called histamine. At normal levels, histamines protect your body from the dangers of foreign substances. However, sometimes your body misinterprets the danger, causing an allergic reaction to something that’s otherwise harmless (like pet dander).

Not all antihistamines work the same way. You may have to try a few brands before finding one that helps with your symptoms.

Some people prefer to avoid medications and instead rely on all-natural allergy relief solutions like Easy Air Organic Allergy Relief Spray to tame pet allergies. The same principle applies. If you use natural solutions and they relieve your symptoms, it’s likely allergies.

What are some surprising benefits of growing up with pets?

Follow the science and you'll likely conclude that growing up with pets comes with plenty of benefits. Kids have companions who love them. They learn how to care for another living creature who depends on them for their survival.

Did you know there’s another benefit to exposure to pets at an early age?  Several studies suggest pets can keep children healthy by boosting their immune systems.

One of the earliest studies, conducted by Dr. Dennis Ownby, a pediatrician and head of the allergy and immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia (Augusta), determined that having multiple pets in a household decreases a child’s risk of developing certain allergies. His findings were first reported in 2022.

Dr. Ownby’s research tracked 474 youngsters from birth to age 7. His data found that youngsters exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less likely to develop common allergies compared with children who had no pets in the home.

Another study done in 2018 offered similar findings with an emphasis on a “dose-dependent” factor. The research revealed that the more pets a child is exposed to the greater the protection against allergies later in life.

Neither study provided a definitive reason for this happening. However, Dr. Ownby theorized it has something to do with bacteria transference that happens when an animal licks a child.

What are effective allergy treatments and prevention strategies?

As discussed previously, exposure to multiple pets is an effective way to combat the development of all sorts of allergies, not just those lurking in animal dander.

However, if you’re an adult, preventing pet allergies is like trying to chase down a horse that’s already left the gate. You may have to resort to allergy management instead of prevention. Here are some effective methods that don’t require you to part ways with your beloved furry family member.

Over-the-counter medications

Many people rely on over-the-counter (OTC) medications to keep their allergies in check. Depending on your symptoms, you may find one or more of the following options helpful.

  • Antihistamines are the first line of defense in fighting pet allergies if you prefer an OTC solution. By blocking the effects of histamine in your body, these affordable drugstore formulas can help relieve itching, watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Brand names include Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec. They do have side effects, though, like drowsiness and dry mouth and skin.
  • Decongestants temporarily relieve nasal congestion from pet allergies. Two of the most common ingredients in OTC decongestants are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine. Never use these medications on a daily basis because they can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. They also cause what’s known as “rebound congestion,” a constant nasal stuffiness from the overuse of decongestants.
  • Eye drops made with allergy relief in mind ease redness and itching caused by pet allergens. Antihistamine eyedrops like Clear Eyes and Zaditor provide allergy-specific relief. Be careful not to overuse them because they can cause irritation when administered for an extended period.
  • Nasal sprays come in two varieties. You can get brands that decongest a stuffy nose. However, they’re intended for short-term use only and can cause rebound congestion if overused. Another option is corticosteroid nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasacort which reduce nasal passage swelling and reduce congestion.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots) 

Immunotherapy, also called allergy shots, is another popular treatment for pet allergies. It works by modifying the immune system’s response to allergens, including those found in pet dander.

Here’s how it works.

An immunologist prepares a series of injections containing small amounts of the pet allergen. You receive the shots in a series, starting with a build-up phase that includes more concentrated doses once or twice weekly. The time between shots and the dosage of allergen steadily decreases until they’re stopped completely.

How long you receive the shots, and the recommended dosage of allergen depends on your specific sensitivity. The immunologist conducts testing to determine the best course before beginning treatment.

Benefits of immunotherapy include:

  • Reduced or eliminated symptoms
  • Long-term relief
  • Prevention of asthma

All-natural allergy relief

Some people prefer an all-natural allergy relief approach to dealing with pet allergies. Some natural remedies are more effective than others. Here are a few you may want to try.

  • Regular cleaning and grooming of your pets can reduce the amount of allergens they produce. Make sure you include bedding to prevent dander from building up there. For best results, use a hot setting to wash and dry the bed linens. You also can add a capful of Easy Air Organic Laundry Rinse directly to the wash to destroy dander at the source.
  • Saline nasal rinse clears nasal passages, reduces congestion, and flushes pet allergens out of your nose before they make their way into your immune system. You can use pre-made saline rinses or make your own using a Neti pot.
  • Allergen-reducing sprays like Easy Air Organic Allergy Relief rely on all-natural allergy relief ingredients to stop your sneezing, wheezing, and coughing indoors. The blend of ingredients neutralizes and deconstructs dust, mite, and animal allergens making them virtually harmless.

Go ahead and love your pets

Parting ways with your furry family members is rarely the preferred option when confronting pet allergies. The good news is you don’t have to go to such extremes to get relief.

So, go ahead and hug your pets. Your cats probably won’t like it but do it anyway.

About the Author: Shari Berg is a researcher, frequent blogger, feature writer, and author of Wars End with Me. 

Sources [H2]

  1. Antihistamines. Accessed July 13, 2023.
  2. Children with dogs, cats have reduced risk of allergies. Accessed July 13, 2023.
  3. Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges. Accessed July 13, 2023.
  4. Immunotherapy for pet allergies. Accessed July 13, 2023.
  5. Pet Allergy. Accessed July 13, 2023.
  6. Pet-keeping in early life reduces the risk of allergy in a dose-dependent fashion. Accessed July 13, 2023.
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