An estimated 10% of the population has a pet allergy. Even if you don't have a pet, you can still be exposed to the substances that cause pet allergies. Many classrooms in elementary schools have classroom pets and you should be aware of this in case your child has any of the following symptoms.
The following information can help you determine whether or not you have a pet allergy and how to treat that allergy if you do have one.
Cold or Allergy?
Many people often confuse colds and allergies, and reasonably so: they share many of the same symptoms. There are, however, a few things to pay attention to when attempting to diagnose that sneezing as cold or allergy-induced. The symptoms of a cold generally come on one at a time and in a particular order: sneezing, runny nose, and then congestion. Also, if you have a fever along with those symptoms, you can almost be sure it's cold.
Allergy symptoms, in contrast, tend to come on all at once and very rarely invoke a fever as allergies are rarely caused by viruses or bacteria. The mucus of a cold is also different than that of an allergic reaction. The mucus of a cold is usually thick with a yellow or greenish color (signaling an infection), while that of an allergy is clear and watery.
What Causes Pet Allergies?
But enough about snot, let's talk about skin flakes! While unattractive pet hair may cover the furniture and clothing of some pet owners, it isn't actually the hair that causes an allergic reaction. Instead, it's the tiny skin flakes, or dander, clinging to these hairs that cause the reaction. In addition to dander, things like pollen, mold, and dust can also collect in pet hair, becoming airborne or stuck to furniture as a pet moves around. Still other pet products can be allergens, such as the proteins in saliva and urine. And while cats don't generally lick those who pet them, they do clean themselves with their tongue, spreading saliva to nearly every inch of their bodies.
What Makes Cat Allergies More Common?
It's difficult to say exactly what causes cat allergies to be more common than those of dogs. It could be a combination of things, including the possibility that the allergens in cat dander and saliva are simply more potent (fewer particles needed to produce a reaction), or because cats aren't very often bathed. Also, male cats produce the allergen in dander in response to hormones. So if a male cat remains non-neutered, it is capable of producing larger amounts of allergen. Cat dander is also incredibly small and sticky, allowing it to stick to clothing and be efficiently transferred. So even if you don't have cats, you could very well have cat dander floating around the air in your home.
How Can I Prevent My Pet Allergies?
If you have a male cat, be sure to have it neutered - if it isn't already. Short-haired pets often shed less and therefore spread less dander. Be sure to bathe pets at least once a week to clean the hair of excess dust, mold spores, pollen, and dander. If you can, keep your pets outside or at least only in uncarpeted parts of your home (carpet is especially good at holding onto allergens). You can also vacuum with a HEPA-filter equipped vacuum-cleaner, designed to trap 99% of pet dander, as well as using a HEPA air filter in rooms where you spend the most time.
Photo Credit: DilipBhoye