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Are You Allergic or Sensitive to Pet Dander, or Could Other Allergens be to Blame for Your Symptoms?

Sixty-seven percent of American households have at least one pet. Although many families include less-allergenic pets like snakes, birds, lizards, and fish, dogs and cats are by far the most common companion animals. Nearly a third of Americans are estimated to have allergic reactions when they are exposed to cats or dogs, but millions continue to choose to live with their beloved pets anyway.

If you begin suffering the common symptoms of an airborne allergy whenever you arrive home — you know the drill: sneezing, a runny nose, itchy, red, and swollen eyes, and maybe even breathing difficulties — and you also happen to have a pet, you might suspect that you are allergic to pet dander. This type of allergy is so common that that could easily be true. Other allergens within your home could also, on the other hand, be to blame for your symptoms. What do you need to know?

What Exactly is Pet Dander?

It is not unusual to hear someone declare that they are “allergic to cats” or “allergic to dogs”. Many people believe that these animals’ fur is the core source of the allergy symptoms such people suffer from, but that is rarely the case. Rather, people with pet allergies react to the saliva, urine, blood, and pet dander emitted by these animals.

Pet dander can be defined as tiny specks of protein left behind by cats, dogs, and other furry and feathered pets as they shed their dead skin cells in much the same way humans do. Cats and dogs are not only the most common pets. They also differ from other companion animals, like rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs, in that they are typically freely able to move around the home. As they go about their daily activities, cats and dogs may sit on your couch, sleep in your bed, run around the house, and scratch an itch on your living room carpet.

In the process, the protein that people with pet allergies react so strongly to is left behind on surfaces all over the house or apartment. It also easily becomes airborne, causing you to inhale it. On the downside, the fact that “pet dander” means more than fur alone means that you can have an allergic reaction after contact with hairless cats and dogs as well, since these species, too, release dander.

You don’t have a cat, dog, or other pet? You may be surprised, and even shocked, to learn that scientific research has uncovered that dog and cat allergens are present in nearly all homes across the United States. That means you may be exposed to substances that trigger mild to severe allergic reactions even if you do not own a pet, perhaps precisely because you know that you have allergies.

At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that less common pets, like hamsters and horses, can also trigger allergic reactions.

What Are the Symptoms of a Pet Allergy?

The symptoms of a pet allergy are identical to those associated with any other airborne allergy. They can range from a mild discomfort that subsides shortly after you leave a space with a lot of pet dander to severe, and can include:

  • Nasal symptoms like a runny nose, nasal congestion, frequent sneezing, and nasal itching.
  • Eye symptoms like watery (crying) eyes, itching, swelling, redness, and a burning sensation.
  • Respiratory symptoms such as a sore throat, breathing difficulties or shortness of breath, wheezing (making a whistling sound as you breathe), or a feeling of tightness in your chest.
  • Systemic symptoms like a headache, tiredness, light-headedness, and trouble concentrating, partially caused by sleep deprivation due to allergy symptoms and partly by the allergy itself.
  • Widespread skin reactions, such as hives (medically known as urticaria), which are raised and itchy patches that can occur all over the body, or localized skin reactions, such as where a cat or dog licked you.

For some people, these allergy symptoms are no more than a minor discomfort that subsides as soon as they leave the space where the “offending” animal is present. In others, however, pet allergies are so severe that they may trigger an asthma attack or other severe reactions that require immediate medical attention.

What Steps Can You Take to Reduce Pet Allergy Symptoms?

People who are allergic to specific types of pet dander, or who believe that they may be because they suffer from characteristic allergy symptoms, are commonly advised to take certain steps to help manage their symptoms. If you are allergic to a pet within your own home, the most extreme step would be to rehome that pet. Before you do so, however, other steps you could take would be:

  • Keeping your cat, dog, or other pet out of your bedroom. You may be asleep while there, but you spend between six and eight hours a day in your bedroom, and the presence of large concentrations of pet dander there will affect not only your sleep quality, but your entire waking day as well. Shut the door to your bedroom and make it clear to your pet that it is a “no-go zone”.
  • Removing unnecessary fabrics where pet dander can easily accumulate. This primarily pertains to carpets, but curtains are affected too. In case of couches and mattresses, you can purchase plastic coverings that are easy to remove and wash.
  • Dusting and vacuuming your home frequently, and preferably every day. Increasing ventilation, by opening your windows every day for at least 15 to 20 minutes, will also help to remove the pet allergens that circulate in your indoor air.
  • Bathing your dog, cat, or other pet frequently to reduce the amount of dander the pet will shed.
  • After cuddling or playing with your cat, dog, or other pet, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds and change your clothes.
  • Installing a true HEPA air purifying system designed to meet the needs of the space in every room within your home. True HEPA air purifiers are able to filter out more than 99 percent of airborne allergens and other harmful particles. They will, as such, greatly improve the general air quality in your home.

What Other Common Indoor Allergens Do You Need to Be Aware Of?

Let us be clear about one thing — only a medical professional can diagnose allergies. When you suffer from common allergy symptoms, you can be relatively certain that you indeed have an allergy of some kind. What you don’t always know is what you are allergic to.

Doctors diagnose allergies by asking you questions about your symptoms and the circumstances under which they arise, performing a thorough physical exam, and asking you to keep a symptom journal that sheds light on the precise set of conditions under which your allergy symptoms typically arise. They then either conduct a skin prick allergy test or perform blood testing, which will tell you which allergens you have been sensitized to.

Unless you have already been diagnosed with an allergy to specific types of pet dander, the symptoms you think your pet is inflicting on you may also be caused by other common household allergens. These allergens are present in every single home, and they include:

  1. Dust and dust mites. Household dust builds up in every home, no matter how seriously you take hygiene. It is composed of particles that come into your home from the environment outdoors, dead insects, skin cells shed by you and any pets you have, and fibers originating from clothes, curtains, bedding, carpets, and other fabrics. House mites, too, live all over your home — whether you have pets or not. They are most concentrated around areas where dander tends to build up, such as bedrooms and couches.
  2. Cockroaches, and more specifically their droppings. You may have roaches in your home even if you have never seen them, and many people have allergic reactions to cockroaches.
  3. Mold. These filamentous fungi easily proliferate in damp, humid, and dark spaces — like bathrooms, kitchens, basements, attics, and deep within your walls if you have leaky pipes or a leak in your roof.

Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds — harmful gases emitted by a wide variety of solids and liquids, which include paint, cleaning materials, solvents, furniture, mattresses, and carpets — can also trigger symptoms that are very similar to those caused by allergies. These noxious compounds can cause short-term irritation in addition to long-term complications.

Could Your Home Have a Mold Infestation?

Mold is a widespread problem in single-family homes and apartment buildings across the United States. Although not all molds pose a threat to human health, those with allergies — an estimated six to 10 percent of the population — can react strongly to mold. More obvious signs of a mold infestation in your home would be visible mold (a buildup that can be blue, green, or dark gray), or a tell-tale musty odor, especially within chronically wet or humid spaces like bathrooms, laundry rooms, or basements.

A mold infestation does not, however, always make itself apparent. You could have leaky pipes, a leaky roof, or high humidity levels within your home. These common problems may lead to a hidden mold infestation. In these cases, you would still suffer allergy symptoms if you have a mold allergy.

Before you take the drastic step of rehoming your cat or dog, you may consider the possibility that an entirely different allergen is the source of your woes. By being tested for allergies, you will find out exactly what you are allergic to — but your home, too, can benefit from a diagnostic process.

As a nationwide mold inspection only company, MI&T can come into your property to carry out a full visual mold inspection. We then take air samples, which are subsequently sent to be independently lab-tested. After a mold inspection, you may find out that you were allergic to mold spores within your home, and that your pet was not to blame for your symptoms at all.

Once you become aware that you have a mold infestation, you can take steps to remediate it. When your mold remediation plan is complete, MI&T can return for clearance testing that offers the peace of mind that can only come from knowing that the air you breathe within your home is clean and healthy.