Animal allergens are extremely important causes of allergy and allergenic reactions. Allergy to cats and dogs is the most common. Most of the allergens are contained in the dander (dry skin flakes), saliva, urine, and secretions from the skin glands. Pet allergens can cause trouble when sloughed off skin (or dander) becomes airborne as the animal is petted, brushed, or rubs itself against furniture or people. The allergen may stick to hair making the hair an allergen carrier but otherwise hair itself is not an allergy trigger. Different animals produce different allergens, but the type and potency of allergen is unrelated to whether the animal has long or short hair. In addition there is no one breed that is free of allergens.


Animals are important source of indoor allergens because they produce potent triggers and because we touch or hug them constantly.   Cats are responsible for most allergies because they are numerous in homes and produce potent allergens. It is estimated that 5-10% of the US population is allergic to pets of some type. People who have allergies are likely to be allergic to pets. Allergy to cats is twice as common as allergy to dogs, however all furry animals can be a source of allergens.


Allergic reaction to animals, as other allergic reactions, range from severe symptoms that develop in minutes after exposure to prolonged and mild symptoms. Pet allergens often trigger asthma and allergic rhinitis and are the most likely indoor allergens to produce eye irritation. Eye symptoms are common because people go from petting their animal to rubbing their eyes. It is not uncommon to see severe eye swelling, particularly after exposure to cats.


Allergy to pets is a common medical problem. The issue is emotional for some people, and thus it is important to confirm the allergy and the severity with proper tests prior to deciding on the course of action. There are a number of environmental control measures to combat pet allergies.  Avoidance is the key word. As with dust mite, the environmental control measures should be done in steps. Clearly, if you have more severe symptoms you would need to do more to get relief. Removing the pet from the home is the most effective solution but is not always an option because of the emotional bond. For people with extreme conditions of allergies, having the pet may cause asthma, increase hospital visits, and compromise the quality of life and may even become life threatening. Unavoidably such cases may require finding another home for the pet.  Alternatively, but not always a better solution, pets can be kept outdoor. For people with less severe allergies, a sufficient degree of avoidance may take care of the problem without removing the pet from the home. Two potential solutions can be keeping the animal outside whenever possible or restricted to certain areas that are well ventilated.  Pets must not be allowed in the bedroom.   Once the pet is removed or restricted to specific area, the house must be cleaned thoroughly to reduce allergens. It takes more than a month for allergens to fall to harmless level. Allergens tend to be sticky and are difficult to remove with casual cleaning.


You can accelerate the process by removing the major reservoir of allergens from your home. As with dust mite, most important among these are carpeting, upholstered furniture, and bedding.  If removal is not possible, the allergens can be cleaned slowly. Frequent cleaning and vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum will help considerably. Carpet treatment with safe anti-allergen sprays or powders can also be helpful. Other helpful steps to accelerate allergen reduction includes increasing clean air circulation, washing surfaces, and washing clothing to remove or neutralize sticky allergens. Special cleaning products should be considered for cleaning and washing. Although it has never studied, using a good furnace allergy filters to prevent recirculation of allergen will also be helpful. Finally a good HEPA air purifier will also be very effective. Pet allergen may also remain in mattress and bedding for an extended period of time. Thus encasing them with special covers is advisable. The most effective approach is to pick one or two room where the affected person spends most often (this is usually the bedroom) and focus your efforts and expenses in that room.  

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