Pets and People

Are pet allergies the same as outdoor allergies?

posted: 05/15/12
Arctic-Images/Getty Images

Every spring, meteorologists start to weave pollen reports into their regular forecasts, but who is it that needs to be paying attention? According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), in the United States alone, 60 million people are affected by allergies. Among other things, this figure encompasses both pet allergies (a type of indoor allergy), and outdoor allergies. But how much do these two types of allergies actually have in common?

Pet allergies and outdoor allergies are alike in some ways. They are very similar in how they make their way into the body, what symptoms they cause, and how you treat them -- but they're not one and the same. Here's a look at what sets them apart.

Allergy Origins

Before you start comparing types of allergies, it helps to know a little bit about them. The term "allergy" refers to a disease that affects the immune system and is caused by a reaction to a substance known as an allergen. In general, different allergens trigger different kinds of allergies, and contrasting pet allergies with outdoor allergies provides a good example of that.

Pet allergies are reactions to allergens that come from your pets' saliva, urine or skin secretions, and end up drying on their skin or fur and shedding off as dander. When these dander flakes become airborne, they get stuck to just about everything they come into contact with, including people and objects such as furniture and carpets. Since dander tends to affect people most when it sets up shop in a home, pet allergies are considered to be an indoor allergy.

Outdoor allergies, on the other hand, are set off by allergens produced by a number of potential sources -- including trees, grass or weed pollen. The notorious variety of pollen, which causes so much trouble for the outdoor allergy-prone, usually comes from plants, trees or grass and is dispersed by way of the wind. There is a more fragrant type of pollen, which gives flowers their sweet scent and makes its way from one source to another by hitching rides with bees or other insects, but this kind of pollen is rarely the cause of allergic reactions.

So, pet and outdoor allergens are distinct, but what they do have in common is how they make their way into folk's bodies: They're inhaled through the nose and mouth -- unlike insect allergens, for example, which enter the body by way of injection through a bug's stinger. Either way, the resulting allergic reaction is decidedly un-fun.

Action, Reaction

One important thing worth noting is that people who already have one type of allergy are prone to developing others, so there is a chance you could be allergic to more than one kind of allergen. In those cases, the lines between pet allergies and outdoor allergies can get kind of blurry.

You're likely to see some overlap, for example, when it comes to symptoms. With either of these types of allergies, you could have inflamed or watery eyes, a stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and in extreme cases, full blown-asthma attacks. There are, however, a few unique points: Those with a pet allergy can also have skin reactions if a dog or cat scratches or licks them, and people who have pollen-based allergies may be more likely to exhibit dark circles under their eyes. Regardless of what symptoms you have, it's best not to diagnose yourself. Consider seeing an allergist to help pinpoint the exact source of your allergic reactions. From there, your doctor can advise you on the best steps to take to fight your allergies and feel better. Those who have pet allergies, for example, often find that it helps to avoid direct contact with animals. When that's not possible, there are also a number of over-the-counter and prescription remedies available to help alleviate pet allergy symptoms, including oral medications, sprays, eye drops, inhalers and even injections. Of course, there's really no way to avoid coming into contact with the source of outdoor allergies, but the solutions for treating them are often similar those used with pet allergies. And that's pretty much the final verdict on the relationship between these two: While pet and outdoor allergies are not identical twins, per se, you can think of them as close relatives with their own special quirks -- quirks that you'd rather appreciate from a distance.

More on
Healthy Pets