Pet allergies are quite common in the United States.
A dog is man’s best friend, that is, unless the man is allergic to his dog.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 15 to 30% of all Americans are affected.
Although allergies to cats are about twice as common, allergic reactions to dogs tend to be more severe. This is especially the case in those with asthma .
Causes of dog allergy
Dogs secrete proteins that end up in their dander (dead skin), saliva, and urine. An allergic reaction occurs when a sensitive person’s immune system reacts abnormally to generally harmless proteins.
Different breeds produce different dander, so it is possible to be more allergic to some dogs than others.
The allergen eventually finds its way into the animal’s fur. From there, it accumulates on rugs, clothing, walls, and between sofa cushions. Pet hair itself is not an allergen, but hair can contain dust and dander.
Pet dander can also linger in the air for long periods of time. It can eventually find its way into your eyes or lungs.
Symptoms of dog allergy
Symptoms of a dog allergy can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may not appear for several days after exposure in people with low sensitivity.
Some clues that you may be allergic to dogs include:
- Swelling and itching in the membranes of the nose or around the eyes.
- Redness of the skin after being licked by a dog.
- Cough, shortness of breath, or wheezing within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to allergens.
- Rash on the face, neck, or chest.
- A severe asthma attack (in someone with asthma).
- Children with dog allergies will often develop eczema in addition to the above symptoms. Eczema is a painful inflammation of the skin.
People used to believe that exposing a newborn to the family dog could cause the child to develop a pet allergy. Fortunately for dog owners, the opposite appears to be true.
Several studies in recent years have found that exposing a baby to a pet does not increase the risk of developing allergies or asthma. It can actually protect the child from developing them in the future.
Treatment of allergy to dogs
The only surefire way to get rid of a pet allergy is to eliminate it from your home. However, there are ways to minimize your exposure to allergens and lessen your symptoms if you don’t want to get rid of your pet.
Here are some medications and treatments that can help you manage allergies and asthma:
- Antihistamines are over-the-counter medications like Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, and Clarinex OTC that can help relieve itching, sneezing, and a runny nose.
- Nasal corticosteroids like Flonase (now over the counter) or Nasonex can reduce inflammation and control symptoms.
- Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that can help reduce symptoms, especially if used before they develop.
- Decongestants make breathing easier by reducing inflamed tissues in the nasal passage. These are available in oral form or as a nasal spray.
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy) expose you to the animal protein (allergen) that is causing the reaction and help your body become less sensitive, reducing symptoms.
The injections are administered by an allergist and are often used in more severe cases for long-term treatment.
Leukotriene modifiers, such as the prescription tablet montelukast (Singulair), may be recommended if you cannot tolerate nasal antihistamines or corticosteroids.
Some people with canine allergies may find that a daily saline (salt water) rinse to rid the nasal passages of allergens can help. A “nasal wash” can control symptoms such as congestion and postnasal drip.
Over-the-counter saline sprays and nasal wash kits are available. You can also make your own mix with 1/8 teaspoon of table salt with distilled water.
Changes in lifestyle
There are several things dog owners can do at home to reduce allergens. These include:
- Establish dog-free zones (certain rooms, such as a bedroom, where the dog is not allowed).
- Bathing the dog weekly using a pet-friendly shampoo (made by a non-allergic person).
- Remove rugs, upholstered furniture, horizontal blinds, curtains, and anything else that can attract dandruff.
- Using high-efficiency particulate air purifiers to reduce airborne allergens in the home.
- Keeping the dog outside (only in certain climates in a well contained area and under humane conditions).
- Investigating hypoallergenic dog breeds.
- Using a trial period when a new pet is introduced to the family to assess the reactions of family members to the new dog.
Many of the lifestyle changes and allergy medications listed above can help reduce uncomfortable symptoms if you love dogs and don’t want to stop being around them.
An allergist can run tests and tell you how severe your dog’s allergy is and what types of treatments can help. Talk to your doctor about your allergy and your treatment options.
The following breeds tend to be easier on people with allergies, according to the American Kennel Club:
- Bedlington Terrier.
- Bichon Frize.
- Chinese Crested.
- Kerry Blue Terrier.
- Poodle (any size).
- Schnauzer (any size).