You finally give in to a family pet, but ever since you brought home Mr. Whiskers, your eyes are red and itchy, you’re sneezing and have a constant runny nose. You feel like you have a perpetual cold. Is being allergic to your pet a minor inconvenience or can it lead to something more serious?
How Prevalent Are Pet Allergies?
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), almost 62% of U.S. households have pets and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs. Ten percent of pet owners are allergic to their pets and 25% of them decide to keep their pets.
Are You Allergic to Your Pet?
Some of the signs and symptoms of pet allergies include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Congestion (stuffy nose)
- Itchy skin
- Hives (hives on your face and chest are symptoms of a more severe allergy)
- Skin reaction where your pet licks you
Be aware that if you have asthma as well as a pet allergy, your symptoms could be especially serious.
What’s the Allergen?
If your pet causes any of the above allergic reactions or aggravates your asthma symptoms, your pet’s hair or fur is not to blame as many people seem to think. But keep in mind that pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens can collect in your pet’s hair and fur. The real culprits behind these allergic effects are the proteins found in your pet’s saliva, urine and dander (flakes of dead skin).
Dander, Dander Everywhere
Unfortunately, if you’re allergic to dogs, it’s near impossible to find a dander-free environment. According to the National Institutes of Health, every home in the U.S. contained detectable levels of pet dander although in 2012, only 36.5% of U.S. households had a dog.
Dog dander is especially hard to escape because of the millions of people that own a dog and because dander travels. It’s transported via the pet owners, so it gets everywhere. Wherever pet owners go, dander goes too.
Dander is a persistent problem because it remains in the air, on furniture, or on your clothing. So even if your pet doesn’t sit on the sofa, you do, so dander gets on every place you sit since it is likely clinging to your clothes. Assume work spaces as well as pet-free hotel rooms contain some level of dander.
Inflammation and Heart Disease Risk
People with allergies have oversensitive immune systems. If you have a pet allergy, your body attacks dander as though it’s bacteria or a virus. The sneezing and runny nose are side effects of your body’s inflammatory response — a natural attempt to get rid of and flush out the allergen.
When your body is constantly under attack (trying to fight allergens), your body is in a constant state of inflammation. Chronic low-level inflammation can lead to chronic disease. When inflammation is out of control, you’re more vulnerable to developing other diseases, such as coronary artery disease.
In a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, 8,653 adults aged 20 years and older were observed. Based on the results, they revealed that common allergic symptoms, such as rhinoconjunctivitis (stuffy nose or itchy and watery eyes) and wheezing were significantly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Despite the current data and emerging relationship between proinflammatory factors and cardiovascular disease and allergies, experts caution that more research is still necessary to ‘clearly’ identify a cause-and effect relationship.
How to Measure Inflammation
Inflammation is the new medical buzzword and doctors are looking for it in a blood test that measures C-reactive protein (CRP). High levels of CRP are related to the presence of inflammation and, according to some research results, may be associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease development and heart attack.
Treating Your Pet and Your Allergy
Confirm that your pet is the actual source of your allergy before taking steps to treat it or consider removing your beloved four-legged family member. Your doctor can perform an allergen-specific skin or blood test. Often times, it’s the not the actual pet that’s the cause, but the allergens its bringing in from the outdoors. Once the allergen is identified, you can be treated.
Karen’s Fit Tip: If you must find a new home for your pet, expect it to take months before the allergens drop down to a level that is tolerable. In the meantime, follow a anti-inflammatory regimen with the right foods, exercise and stress management.