You're no stranger to a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, rashes and welts. You're one of more than 60 million Americans the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates are affected by allergies in general, but your symptoms always seem to show up when one of man's furry friends -- a pet -- comes around. This may not be the most convenient of allergies you could have, especially if you're an animal lover, but at least you know you're in good company: Up to a third of all allergies are animal-related, and, according to the Humane Society of the United States, there are approximately 77.5 million dogs and 93.6 million cats owned as pets. This means there are many people out there experiencing at least a few of these symptoms when they're in the presence of a furry friend:
Stuffy or runny nose
Red, itchy eyes
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
If you count yourself among this group, check out these five methods for finding some relief.
No. 5: Keep Your Distance
The first line of defense for dealing with a pet allergy is trying to limit your contact with animals whenever possible. This includes resisting any urge to become a pet parent yourself, but if you just can't stand the idea of not having a pet in your home, consider adopting an animal that doesn't have fur or feathers, such as a fish, snake or turtle. Also, if you're planning to drop in on friends who have pets in their household, remember to plan accordingly, and try taking antihistamines ahead of time. While you might be able to tolerate being around pets for a shorter event, such as a dinner party, a longer-term situation like an overnight stay could be a recipe for disaster. Springing for a hotel might make a dent in your wallet, but your immune system will thank you.
No. 4: Hands Off
When and if you do come into contact with animals, be sure to wash your hands immediately, particularly before touching any other sensitive areas, such as your skin or eyes. Even if your hands are seemingly free of fur, a good scrub is still necessary, because pet hair is not actually the source of allergic reactions. The allergens originate with animals' bodily secretions: With dogs, they're secreted through skin glands, while with cats, allergens are present in their saliva and subsequently transferred to their skin through self-grooming. Regardless of where these secretions come from, once they dry, they become part of the dander, or dead skin, which regularly flakes off pets' bodies. While something like a lint brush might remove the particles caught in animal fur, it won't protect you from those that already have become airborne.
No. 3: Zone Out
If you have allergies and pets that are not of the fur-less or feather-less variety, it's important to maintain at least one or two pet-free areas under your roof. The bedroom is the best place to designate as a pet-free zone if you want to rest easier. Consider removing carpet from this room, too -- or better yet, throughout the entire household. Keep a close eye on curtains and blinds, as they can be like magnets for dander-filled dust. As you create pet-free zones, you can also create some designated pet-friendly zones, such as a private backyard, where your pet can roam and explore to his heart's content (when weather cooperates, of course) while you're inside breathing easier.
No. 2: Get Squeaky Clean
Staying on top of chores not only brings harmony to your household, it can help your sinuses as well. Dusting is key, and don't forget to use hot water when washing linens, towels and other fabrics to make sure any dander that's present is eliminated. Pet allergens can land and stick on woodwork and walls as well, so even if these surfaces look clean, play it safe and give them a regular wipe down. Keeping things clean applies to the pet itself, too, so if you have a cat or dog, grooming is a great way to save a lot of grief for anyone in your household who may have allergies. Grooming includes both brushing and bathing, and taking these steps on a regular basis can help decrease dander levels in your pet's fur, on his skin and in the air. For cats, don't forget to keep those litter boxes as fresh as possible, and place them away from any vents.
No. 1: Freshen the Air
There are a number of tools on the market created specifically to help make life easier for allergy-prone people. Some of these are geared toward the household, such as HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that can be added to your indoor air system to remove airborne particles. You could invest in a vacuum that has a built-in HEPA filter and also consider wearing a facemask while using it. Other options, such as allergy shots or over-the-counter nasal sprays, are specifically targeted toward helping people with allergies control their reactions and symptoms. Speak to your family doctor or an allergist to help assess what might be the best choice for you.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "Allergy Overview." 02/25/1010. http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&cont=79
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "Pet Allergies." 02/25/1010. http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=18&cont=236
Humane Society of the United States. "Allergies to Pets: Learn to live with your pet in harmony, even if you're allergic to them." 10/26/2009. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/allergies_pets.html
Humane Society of the United States. "U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics." 02/26/2010. http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html
McCoy, Krisha. "Managing a Pet Allergy." Everyday Health. 02/25/2010. http://www.everydayhealth.com/allergies/pet-allergies.aspx
Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. "Best Pets for People with Allergies." 02/25/2010. http://www.cvm.tamu.edu/news/pettalk/PetAllergies.html
Winnebago County Animal Services Auxiliary. "Managing & Reducing Your Allergies So You Can Comfortably Live with Your Pet." 02/25/2010.