Understanding Pet Allergies

People with animal allergies may experience reactions to the proteins in animals' urine, skin cells, or saliva. Most commonly, the reactions are brought on by exposure to the dander, or dead skin flakes, shed by pets. Although any furry animal can cause allergies, they are most often associated with rodents, cats, horses, and dogs.

When animal allergies occur, the immune system is reacting to a foreign substance, such as pet dander. The immune system of someone with animal allergies creates antibodies in response to the foreign substance, even though it is not harmful. The immune system creates an inflammatory response in the lungs or nasal passages.

Cats and dogs produce allergens when they shed dander. Allergens may also be found on their hairs and in their saliva. Dander is very small and easily collects in upholstered furniture. It can remain airborne for long lengths of time and it can also stick to one's clothes.

Rodents, including guinea pigs, mice, hamsters and gerbils, can also cause allergic reactions. Allergens from these animals are most often present in urine, hair, saliva and dander.

Symptoms of animal allergies include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, frequent awakening, cough, postnasal drip, itchy, red or watery eyes, swollen skin under the eyes, facial pressure and pain, and an itchy nose or throat. Some people with animal allergies may additionally experience skin symptoms, including inflammation, itchy skin, or hives.

If you suffer from these symptoms, your doctor may examine the lining of your nose or administer an allergy skin test or blood test. These tests reveal how sensitive you are to various allergens.

The best way to avoid experiencing reactions to animal allergens is to avoid contact with animals, but pet-lovers can often still enjoy their furry friends thanks to a range of allergy medications. Nasal allergy symptoms, for instance, can be controlled with antihistamines, corticosteroids or decongestants. Other treatments for animal allergies include immunotherapy and nasal lavage, a technique that clears the nasal passages using saltwater.

At home, people with animal allergies can reduce the level of allergens by thoroughly cleaning the space, replacing upholstered furniture, using high-efficiency filters, bathing their pets frequently, removing carpet, and establishing a pet-free zone, such as a bedroom.