From the Doctor’s Surgery, by Dr Alexandra Phelan
Do allergies and asthma mean that prevent you from spending time around animals? In the UK, pets follow dust as the second largest cause of allergy within the home. Any animal with fur can be the cause of an allergic reaction but the worst offenders are cats and dogs. It doesn’t matter if you have previously had a pet and were not allergic to it before, pet allergies can develop at any time.
Couldn’t be fur-ther from the truth
It often surprises people that pet allergies are not caused by an animal’s fur. The allergens are found in animals’ saliva, sweat and urine. Once the saliva dries, it becomes airborne easily. Saliva, urine and sweat dry easily on an animal’s fur and skin, which is then shed around the house, and onto clothing. Small rodents’ bedding quickly becomes saturated with urine and is stirred up when the animal moves around its cage, or the cage is cleaned out.
Symptoms include frequent sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy, red or watery eyes, irritated skin and a cough. Other, less common symptoms are the loss of your sense of smell, facial pain caused by blocked sinuses, headaches and earache. Patients who have eczema or asthma are more likely to suffer from allergies. If these patients find their allergies are being troublesome, often their chest or skin will flare up also. Even if your symptoms are mild, they can still interfere with your work, your social life or your child’s activities at school. If you think you have a pet allergy, your first port of call should be a pharmacy.
In my experience as a GP, many cases can be controlled using simple over-the-counter medication. Antihistamines are available in both tablet and liquid form and can be used either as required or on a regular basis. Frequent sufferers may find regular treatment more beneficial to keep symptoms at bay. For more severe cases, prescription-strength antihistamines may be prescribed by a GP.
Eye drops and nasal sprays are also available over the counter and can be combined with antihistamines or taken on their own. As with antihistamines, stronger prescription strength treatment could be made available by your GP for more troublesome symptoms.
You should also take steps to reduce sufferers’ exposure to allergens, especially young children.
- The best measure is remove any pets from the house. However, as animals are often an integral part of the family, this might not be an option.
- Regular outdoor grooming of dogs (not by the sufferer) greatly reduces shedding of hair and should be done regularly.
- Bathing a cat once or twice a week can reduce allergens in the home by up to 90%.
- All animals should be kept out of bedrooms, especially at night. Confining a cat or dog to one area of the house is unlikely to be 100% effective as allergens are still transferred on clothes and shoes, but it can reduce symptoms.
- If you come into contact with animals outside the home, change your clothes, shoes and wash your hair when arriving home.
- Wash animals and their bedding at least once a week.
- Remove carpets from the rooms animals frequent or hoover with regularly with a HEPA high-filtration vacuum-cleaner. You could also couple the vacuum cleaner with the best washer and dryer for pet hair.
- Open windows or use air filters to ventilate your house.
- Don’t allow pets to lick the hands or face.
- Wash hands after petting an animal, especially before eating or touching the face – use hand wipes if you’re out and about.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. Visit www.pharmacy2u.co.uk for further information.