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Important Facts for Animal Lovers to Consider
Pets are such an important part of so many households that they’re practically treated like people. But while pets can have a wonderful effect on mental and physical health, not every pet owner will reap those rewards.
Living with asthma is like living next to an invisible enemy that could strike in any form, at any time. Many allergens hide in and around your home, and as it turns out, your pet could be one of the worst carriers. Since allergies and asthma go hand in hand, animal allergies could worsen your asthma symptoms, or even bring on an asthma attack.
Unfortunately, all animals pose some risk for asthmatics, and while there are ways to limit their impact, life with a pet may not be feasible for you or your family. So, before you get a pet — or get rid of your current animal — learn how they could complicate your asthma, and what you might be able to do about it.
Animal Allergens That Cause Problems
Cats and dogs are notorious for sparking allergic reactions: up to 30 percent of allergy sufferers will cough, sneeze, and struggle with itchy, watery eyes around the animals (though cats tend to cause more problems than dogs).
But while long-hair animals can cart along allergens, so can animals with feathers, short fur, and no fur at all. The problem isn’t always found in the fur, but rather in:
The dead skin cells that sit on the surface of the skin, below the fur, are a major cause for respiratory distress. Your sensitive immune system could overreact to these allergens when you come into direct contact with your pet, but this dander can also scatter over couches, rugs, beds, and other surfaces that you share with your animal.
Even if your pet always goes outside to relieve itself, urine can get tracked back inside. You may not see or smell it, but traces of pet urine can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction in vulnerable people. Animal urine can be easily carried around on shoes, so visitors to your home could be unwitting accomplices.
Pet saliva can be much more difficult to avoid than urine. Dogs like to lick, and cats like to groom. Saliva can be easily transferred to furniture, clothing, tables, toys, books — all sorts of surfaces where it will stay for a long time. Moreover, the potency of the allergens won’t fade for quite a while.
Although animal fur itself doesn’t bother airways nearly as much as dander, lots of irritating stuff can get trapped in fur. From pollen and mold to bacteria and dust mites, furry pets can be walking asthma triggers.
Obviously, the closer you get to your pet, the worse it will be for your airways. If you’re hugging, petting, and sleeping alongside them, you could be setting yourself up for an attack.
Unfortunately, separating yourself from your pet can be heartbreaking, especially if you’re particularly affectionate. Naturally, you’ll want to exhaust all options before giving up your furry friend.
Weighing the Risks and Rewards of Keeping Your Pet
The idea of a hypoallergenic pet is appealing, but does it really exist? Sadly, no. You might find that certain breeds bother you more than others, but experts insist there is no completely hypoallergenic animal that will be absolutely safe for asthma sufferers.
Once you identify factors that cause asthma attacks, you can develop ways to reduce triggers and manage your asthma. Read more about asthma management.
Removing your pet from your home is the single best way to eliminate the asthma threat. That said, some people with asthma may be able to keep their pet, as long as they make a few concessions for the sake of their lungs. It’s important to find ways to reduce your exposure and make your house less attractive to allergens.
Determine the Severity of Your Allergy
Like any allergy, pets can affect different people in different ways. You may not erupt in bronchial spasm at the first sight of a cat, but that doesn’t mean you’re not sensitive to their allergens.
Sometimes the effects take hours to set in, so pay close attention to how you react in the day following your exposure to accurately judge how much the allergens bother your airways. If you find the effects to be tolerable, you may not be one of the unlucky 30 percent after all.
Make Your Bedroom a People-Only Zone
You spend a huge amount of time in your bedroom, and you count on sound sleep to keep your immune system in peak condition. In turn, it’s best to keep all animals outside of the room at all times, which should make it easier to keep your bedding and floor free of pesky allergens.
It’s a good idea to use a HEPA air filter in your sleeping space to keep the air clear and pure. Also, wash your bedding often, in hot water, to eliminate dust mites. Remember to wash your hands and arms before bed, if you’ve been petting or playing with your pet, and clothes should go right into a closed laundry hamper.
Minimalist Style Is Best
A house full of carpet, rugs, pet beds, throw blankets and knickknacks is asking for trouble. Pet allergens tend to stick to surfaces very well, so the fewer surfaces you have, the fewer places for allergens to collect.
Get rid of wall-to-wall carpeting, and scrub any woodwork (like wall panels or banisters) regularly. Also, if you can keep surfaces clear and uncluttered, you’ll save yourself a lot of dusting time.
Keep Your Air as Clean as Possible
It can take some time and effort, but cleaning your indoor air is an important step in managing your asthma with pets. Although an air cleaner can’t remove allergens from surfaces, using a cleaner with an electrostatic filter for a few hours every day can have a remarkable effect on airborne allergens.
Be sure to also wear a dust mask when vacuuming, and place cheesecloth or another filtering material over floor air vents to prevent dust and dander from circulating around the house.
When it comes to cleaning your pet, leave the job to someone else who isn’t allergic. Have another family member or, if your budget allows, a groomer wash and dry the animal twice a week, somewhere outside the house if possible.
When to Consider Medicine
You can reduce the amount and extent of animal allergens in your own home, but there’s not much you can do about other spaces. Since staying away from other houses and opting out of events can be socially isolating, especially for children, preventative medicine may be a better solution.
Talk to your doctor about your concerns, and be sure you understand exactly how to take your prescribed medication. In any case, it’s crucial that you always have your rescue inhaler close at hand, in case the allergens are too much for your system to handle.
Remember that allergens can hang around for months after an animal has been in a room, so even if you’ll be in a pet-free space, prepare to deal with symptoms.