Living with the animals - pet allergies 101

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  • Jennifer Watson

  • 1

    Shari Montandon

  • 2

    Ashley Stroud

  • Jennifer Watson

  • 1

    Shari Montandon

  • 2

    Ashley Stroud

Humans, dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!

Okay, so we butchered that Bill Murray line from “Ghostbusters” as a cheap lead-in to talk about pet allergies. Many animal lovers suffer from a wide variety of reactions to hair, dander, saliva and probably sometimes the personalities of dogs, cats, horses and other common pets. It can be so bad that some people seemingly can’t be around animals at all.

Live Well asked three experts from Asthma and Allergy of Idaho to discuss all things pet allergies and how people can manage symptoms and find possible relief. The experts are Shari Montandon, DO, board certified allergist, Jennifer Watson, MN, APRN, NP-C, and Ashley Stroud, DNP, APRN, NP-C. Together, they put together answers to our questions.

LIVE WELL: What are typical allergies people have with pets?

There is a spectrum of typical allergies symptoms from mild to more severe. The symptoms include nasal, ocular, cutaneous, and respiratory.

Nasal symptoms generally include runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy nose, and sneezing. The typical ocular symptoms include watery and itchy eyes, while the respiratory symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Some people will have a cutaneous reaction from the animals licking their skin that results in urticaria or hives.

There have been reports of anaphylaxis to animal exposure, but these are very rare in occurrence.

LIVE WELL: If someone is allergic to one kind of animal hair, are they more likely to be allergic to other types of animals?

The types of pets that people are allergic to is more so on an individual basis. Some people will be allergic only to one type of common pet, while other people will be allergic to almost all pets. Clinical testing is done for each individual protein structure, but there are certain proteins associated with cats and dogs which may increase the chance of being allergic to a different type of pet like cows, horses, rats and mice.

LIVE WELL: What is the difference, if any, between allergic reaction to hair vs. dander or saliva?

The allergy response is based on the exposure to different proteins that are found in saliva, hair, dander, feces, and urine depending upon the animal. For instance, with cats the protein Fel d 1 is the major cat allergen and is found in cat skin, hair follicles, and several glands including sebaceous and salivary. Thus, even if one has a hairless cat, they are still going to be exposed to the allergen with the cat.

LIVE WELL: Are there breeds of dogs and cats that are typically better for allergy sufferers?

There is a common misconception that there are hypoallergenic dogs and/or cats, but this is not accurate information. Even by removing the hair component of an animal, the allergens are still present in the dander, saliva, feces and urine.

LIVE WELL: What kind of medications are available for people with pet allergies? Are there better short-term solutions (infrequent exposure) compared to what might be needed for long-term management?

The medications that can be used to help with symptoms include oral antihistamines (long acting, non-sedating ones are preferred), nasal steroid spray, and antihistamine eye drops.

While most of these medications are available over the counter, it is important to review these with your primary care provider to ensure they are appropriate for an individual to take based on their personal medical history.

For people who will be exposed to an animal intermittently, medication management of symptoms would be appropriate for them. However, for people that are frequently exposed to pets that they are allergic to or live with a pet, allergen immunotherapy would be the ideal treatment option for them.

LIVE WELL: That leads into the next question - are there injections people can take for pet allergies like are available for seasonal allergies?

Allergen immunotherapy, otherwise known as allergy shots, are an option to ease allergy symptoms due to pets. The treatment is individualized to each patient. If people also have seasonal allergies, both these conditions can be treated at the same time.

Allergy immunotherapy works by reducing the sensitivity to the allergens, which leads to reduced symptoms, and often no symptoms, when exposed to those allergens. They do not work to fix the symptoms immediately but will take some time. So, in the meantime, we would optimize the medication management side while a person is waiting for the therapeutic benefit from the allergy shots.

LIVE WELL: Does exposure therapy work with allergies? For example, spend enough time with the dog in your house and eventually you won’t suffer allergic reactions?

To a degree, you can have some desensitization to your own pets through exposure. That does not mean it is expected that you will be entirely symptom free with your own pets over time, but less symptomatic.

In this situation though, we would recommend allergy immunotherapy as these individuals are likely more symptomatic being around other people’s pets. While it is more of an unconscious aspect, people will tend to avoid homes that cause symptoms.

• • •

The Coeur d’Alene office of Asthma & Allergy of Idaho is located at 714 W. Appleway Ave., Suite 200. Contact them at (208) 665-1552 or asthma@allergyid.com. Get more information on Asthma & Allergy of Idaho, as well as local pollen counts at www.AllergyID.com.

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