Growing up in Southern California, I never had seasonal allergies. Or, maybe I did, and they were just so mild, I didn’t really notice the symptoms. So I never had an appreciation for how truly awful it can be to have an allergic reaction that totally ruins your day.
Several years ago, when I moved from San Diego to Washington, D.C. and experienced my first East Coast spring, I had a rude awakening of coughing, itching and sneezing that was so bad, I couldn’t get through the day without being completely hopped up on antihistamines. It was awful.
For three months out of the year, my whole life was about managing allergy symptoms — avoiding certain parts of town, not going outside very often, running my air purifier day and night — all so I could keep the dreaded itching and sneezing at bay.
That time in my life made me far more empathetic to people dealing with allergies on a regular basis. Recent studies have indicated that people suffering from hay fever may have worse allergic reactions if there are dogs in their environment. If you’re an allergy sufferer but want to adopt a pet, what choices do you have?
Great news! Actually, many pet choices exist for people who suffer from allergies, ranging from the traditional domestic pet (like a dog or cat) to exotics, including reptiles and aquatic animals. Some domestic animals produce fewer allergens than others, categorizing them as “hypoallergenic,” or less prone to cause an allergic reaction. More on that in a second.
Here’s a fun fact: About 15% of the American population is allergic to house pets, and twice as many people react to cats as they do to dogs.
What makes a person allergic? A secreted protein released by dander and saliva is to blame; these allergens are sticky, clinging to pet fur but also clothing, mattresses, drapes or bedding for long periods of time. They also stay suspended in the air for several hours.
Because dander is the most commonly known culprit, a lot of people may think that long-haired animals equal more dander in the home. This is not necessarily the case though, because all warm-blooded animals produce dander, even birds.
People allergic to cats might also react to a protein found in feline saliva called FELD1. Recent developments in science have had promising results in finding a “cat allergy cure.” But these things take time.
Back in 2011, researchers at McMaster University performed a clinical trial of a vaccine on 88 people, and the results were positive, with a 40% reduction in skin reaction to cat allergens. The researchers particularly hoped that their work would affect the development of new treatments for asthma because cat allergies and asthma appear related in children. Ultimately, it didn’t pan out.
In 2012, Circassia, a company based in Oxford, England, introduced ToleroMune cat allergy vaccine. Not long after that, a new vaccine called Cat-SPIRE hit the market. This product required only four shots to get long-lasting results. Still, it failed in clinical trials. So, research continues.
If you already have a pet dog in your home and suffer from spring allergies, you probably have a HEPA air filter and take antihistamines to reduce itchy, watery eyes and a stuffy nose.
To be clear, there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic pet. Also, the term “hypoallergenic” means fewer allergens, and is not synonymous with nonallergic. No animal is completely nonallergic, just some have a lower incidence of causing allergies than others.
If you’re allergic to dogs, but still want to have one, consider the following tips to reduce your allergy symptoms:
Carpet is over. It’s all about hardwood or laminate flooring. Like I said, allergens are sticky and need a surface on which to attach. They stick much easier on cloth and are harder to clean from these surfaces.
Replace carpet with hardwood or laminate flooring, and replace drapes or curtains with shutters or blinds.
If replacing carpet is out of the question, get your carpet professionally deep-cleaned at least twice a year.
Find your inner clean geek
Don’t be a slob. Clean and vacuum — like, all the time! Vacuuming frequently can keep allergens from piling up.
The single most important key to vacuuming frequently is to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which removes 99.97% of all tiny particles.
Remember how soft your dog’s fur feels after he’s had a bath? That’s because the dirt has been washed away, along with the allergens. Frequent bathing removes the dead skin flakes — AKA dander — from your pet’s skin and can reduce allergens by as much as 84%.
Most veterinarians recommend weekly baths, but consult your own vet to determine what’s best for you and your dog. You’ll need to be careful not to dry out your pet’s skin. Certain shampoos can help.
Don’t forget wipes, which can be less harsh on your pet’s skin yet still remove a good percentage of built-up allergens. There are even shampoos and wipes specifically designed to reduce dog allergens.
Wash pet beds often
Pet bedding is another source of piled-up allergens, so wash it frequently. You may even want to consider replacing pet beds every few months or so.
You can always donate lightly-used (and washed) beds to your local animal shelter (hi shameless plug!), where homeless dogs are sure to appreciate the plush bedding.
Create dog-free zones
Keeping your dog out of certain areas of the house creates safe havens for allergy sufferers in the home. Keep the door shut and do not allow the pet inside these areas under any circumstances.
Install HEPA filters
As I said, HEPA filtration is the ultimate in controlling allergens. These filters remove nearly 100% of the microscopic allergens that are keeping you miserable.
You won’t just remove dog dander, you’ll also remove other potentially risky indoor air pollutants. Although HEPA filters offer the best quality control with an efficiency rating of 17 out of 20, Angie’s List has a handful of cost-effective alternatives.
“Spring Cleaning” is a thing for a reason. So let’s show some love to all our pet-loving allergy sufferers out there and wage war on pet allergies with a good ol’ fashioned scrub down and vacuuming!