What to do When Pet Allergies Strike
A couple of months ago, our dog Bodhi was allowed to sleep in the (humans’) bed.
Within a few weeks I noticed my eyes were really itchy and watery in the morning. Eventually I started waking up with huge bags under my eyes. My eye doctor said I was having a mild allergic reaction. My ear, nose, and throat doctor diagnosed a “sensitivity to a possible allergen.”
Was the possible allergen’s name “Bodhi?”
Allergies to dogs and cats are reactions to the proteins found in an animal’s skin cells – otherwise known as dander (see below) – saliva, or urine. Symptoms of pet allergies are similar to those of hay fever: sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion, and runny noses. In more serious cases, people can get really sick, exhibiting signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. All dogs produce dander. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, however, the amount of dander different dogs produce does vary.
Doctors say the easiest way to get rid of an allergic reaction is to remove the source of the allergen. In other words, get rid of the dog.
I read somewhere that people whose allergists tell them to get rid of their pets are more likely to get rid of their allergists instead. Dr. Andy Nish of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center said in an interview with CNN:
…about 75 percent of the patients to whom he makes the recommendation [to remove their pets] ignore his advice. Some of Dr. Nish’s patients have written on their intake paperwork, before he has even seen them, “I have a cat and a dog and I am not going to get rid of them.”
On my ENT doctor’s recommendation, Bodhi was promptly banished back to his (dog) bed and my symptoms seemed to abate for a while. Then the weather got warmer and we started using a fan to help cool the apartment and my symptoms came back. I decided I needed a more thorough plan of prevention and made an appointment with an allergist.
According to my doctor, barring removal of the pet, there are steps you can take to help reduce exposure to dander; however, because most of us live in tight quarters, New York City apartment dwellers might find some of these mitigating steps challenging.
- Keep pets out of bedroom at all times.
- Encase pillows and box springs in allergen-proof covers.
- Wash all bedding, including blankets often.
- Remove bedroom carpet.
- Vacuum carpet and drapes with a vacuum that traps dander.
- Confine pet to small area.
- Minimize direct contact with pet.
- Bathe the pet twice weekly.
- Open windows to allow exchange of air through the house.
- With windows closed, use HEPA air cleaners to remove significant amounts of animal allergen.
(For more on allergies visit Mission: Allergy.)
My doctor tested me for common allergies and luckily for Bodhi and me, it turns out I am not allergic to dander, but to dust mites! To fight the dust mites, we keep the windows open more and bought Claritin anti-allergy pillows and a comforter.
Bodhi, however, still has to sleep on the floor.