Good news for the millions of dog and cat lovers whose four-legged friend is causing them to sneeze and wheeze.—removing the pet from the home isn’t the only option. At the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Boston, Nov. 3-8, allergists discuss the use of immunotherapy – allergy shots – combined with environmental changes to help control pet allergy symptoms.
“This is a common allergy that touches the hearts of so many,” said Dana Wallace, MD, ACAAI president. “More than 90 percent of homes have measurable dog and cat allergens and 52 percent of homes have a pet. So not only is it a common allergy, but the allergen is everywhere.”
And although individuals who are allergic to dogs and/or cats are advised to reduce their exposure to the animal, case studies show that cat dander is present even in places where a cat has never set a paw. Allergists refer to this as “passive” exposure because the dander travels to school on students’ clothing and backpacks.
“Studies show that when asthmatic children who are allergic to cats attend classes with many cat owners, they have increased asthma symptoms,” added Dr. Wallace. “We usually see a spike in asthma episodes at the beginning of the school year when students are reintroduced to the allergen after being away from it over the summer.”
In her presentation, Dr. Wallace discusses the benefit of specific environmental interventions and the effectiveness of allergy shots for individuals who want to live comfortably with their pet.
Change your space
What are pet lovers to do? Dr. Wallace suggests incorporating the following changes—not just a couple—to greatly reduce animal dander in the home:
• Remove the animal from the bedroom to create an “allergy free zone”
• Use bleach to reduce the allergen on clothing or bedding
• Cover mattress and pillows with tightly woven microfiber fabric to capture small cat and dog allergens
• Use HEPA room air cleaners and a HEPA vacuum
• Use whole-house filtration on central heating/ventilation, air conditioning systems (HVAC); a MERV 12 filter is recommended
• Limit carpeted surfaces; hard-surface flooring, like wood or tile, is recommended
• Substitute leather furniture for upholstery
• Bathe animals regularly
While mild symptoms may be managed with over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines or nasal sprays, immunotherapy is the most effective treatment in most cases because it treats the underlying cause rather than masking allergy symptoms. The treatment works like a vaccine, exposing the individual to tiny (but increasing) amounts of the allergen to build up the immune system’s tolerance. Studies show that immunotherapy may keep people from developing new allergies and help reduce the risk of developing asthma. And it is the only treatment that can potentially resolve symptoms for good.
Even though symptoms can be treated, Dr. Wallace cautioned that keeping a dog or cat in the household may not be the best choice for everyone.
“When the allergy is so severe that the individual is having increased asthma attacks or hospitalizations, the health of the person needs to be the top priority in making decisions about the family pet,” she added.
Those who suspect they have allergies to dogs or cats should be tested by an allergist—a doctor who is expert in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma.
The ACAAI is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.
Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)