In urban areas, cockroach, rat, or mice infestations can also pose allergy problems. "Remember it is not actually the animal that causes the problems. With rats or mice it is the urine that has allergen in it. Extermination of the mice or rats does not necessarily clear up the problem. Everything must be thoroughly cleaned afterward to make it allergy free," Dr. Johnson explains.
The Humane Society offers some tips on reducing the allergy symptoms for people who have non-life-threatening allergies and also own a pet.
"Too often, pet owners are quick to relinquish their animals when they don't think they have alternatives," explains Karen L. Allanach, media relations manager at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
HSUS gives owners the following recommendations:
- Bathe the pet weekly, which may reduce the level of allergens on fur by as much as 84 percent. Even cats can get used to being bathed (check with your veterinarian).
- Ask your allergist to specifically test for allergies to pet dander. Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen.
- Try immunotherapy (allergy shots). Those improve symptoms but cannot eliminate them entirely.
According to HSUS, a combination of approaches—medical control of symptoms, good house-cleaning methods, and immunotherapy—is most likely to succeed in allowing an allergic person to live with pets.
If all the avoidance methods are not effective, medical treatments can be used to help with allergies, including antihistamines (such as Benadryl) and decongestants (such as Sudafed).
"Over-the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can make a child or adult sleepy. Other newer generation antihistamines, like Claritin and Alavert, do not cause sedation. The most effective medical allergy treatments are prescription intranasal steroids, or prescription nose sprays. The nose spray decreases the swelling and inflammation in the nose," Dr. Johnson says. "Allergy shots are also available. Although quite effective they can take several years of therapy."
If you are or are planning to become pregnant, check with your physician before taking these medicines.
For more information be sure to visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.