One primary reason for "no-pet households" is people who have pet allergies. But these well-meaning allergy sufferers still may be vulnerable. A study just published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revealed that animal allergen exists in 100% of American homes. Furthermore, because clothing so easily transports the allergen, it also is in shopping malls, schools, cinemas, hotels and even hospitals.
Given that 40 million Americans suffer from nasal-related allergies, I talked with allergist Linda Ford, MD, past president of the American Lung Association, about what people can do to protect themselves.
Dr. Ford explained that symptoms relate to dose exposure. The more allergen you're around, the worse off you'll be. Some people with very bad allergies know to keep their home environment pet-free, but as this study made clear, it's impossible to avoid animal allergen completely.
Note: If you can't bear the idea of life without a pet, consider a male, black cat, a group that -- for reasons unknown -- has lower levels of allergen-producing dander. (Because allergen is also found in cats' saliva and urine, give your pet a simple water bath at least once a week and keep a pristine litter box. Clumping litter is preferable. Always wear a facial mask when cleaning the box to prevent inhaling the allergen that can become airborne.) A good option for dog lovers who suffer from pet allergies is the Portuguese water dog.
Even though it's impossible to free your home completely of pet allergens, there are ways you can keep them reasonably under control, says Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers) and content producer for Care2.com. High on your list should be several high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) products -- a HEPA vacuum, an air purifier and air filters in your air conditioners and on your heating unit, if possible. HEPA products have been around for many years and are widely available.
Keep your pet outside as much as you can and above all, don't let Max or Toto into the bedroom of the allergy-prone family member. Finally, Berthold-Bond suggests cleaning surfaces with a high-quality soap, such as Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap -- look for the one with lavender oil in it, which acts as an antibacterial while it diffuses pet odors.
For those whose allergies are particularly persistent, immunotherapy, a regimen in which the patient is injected with gradually increasing amounts of the allergen with the idea that over time the immune system no longer responds to it, is an option. It has improved considerably in the last few years. Dr. Ford explains that today's high-potency standardized extracts are responsible for making this treatment much more successful than in the past. She recommends it for those who do not benefit from medical or avoidance strategies.
Immunotherapy shots are typically given once a week for one year, with gradual reduction in frequency over the next three to five years until immunity is in place. The result for most patients is an allergy-free life. Should you choose immunotherapy shots, be sure to ask your doctor about any impact it might have on your overall immune system.
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