If the slightest bit of cat hair or dog slobber turns you into a sniffling mess, you know that pet allergies can be a huge buzzkill. In fact, about 10 percent of people with allergies are particularly sensitive to pet danderÃ¢â‚¬”but close to half of all U.S. homes are harboring a dog or cat, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. So whether you have a pet you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t part with or a partner who comes with a furry plus one, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need a serious defense when it comes to keeping your symptoms in check. To keep your itchy eyes and runny nose under wraps, try these expert tips:
Identify the Problem
If you haven't been diagnosed with pet allergies, get a skin test from an allergist to make sure the animal is actually causing your symptoms. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You don't want to get rid of your pet or spend tons of money on revamping your home if you don't have to,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Jody Tversky, M.D., assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Forget the Hype About "Hypoallergenic" Pets
Wondering why your guy's labradoodle or malti-poo is causing you to sneeze? It's probably because there's no such thing as a totally allergy-free pet. "A hypoallergenic dog or cat doesn't exist,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Tversky. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Though some individual cats or dogs can be less potent than others.Ã¢â‚¬Â And since allergens are found in the animal's saliva and urine as well as their skin, you may still have a reaction to a breed thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supposedly safe. So before you offer to take care of your partnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“hypoallergenicÃ¢â‚¬Â pet or buy your own, schedule a trial run first to see how you feel.
Find the Right Meds
Different treatment methods will work best depending on how much time youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re spending with a pet. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to a friend or dateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house that has a pet, pop an OTC antihistamine like Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin about 20-30 minutes before you head over, says Tversky. If you live with the pet or sleep over at your partnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s place pretty frequently, ask your doctor to prescribe you a nasal steroid like Flonase for added relief. These need to be taken every day to be effective and wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t start working until youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve taken them for about three to five days.
If you need serious relief, you may want to try allergen immunotherapy. These allergy shots involve an injection of pet allergens under your skin two times per week for about six months, then once a month for three to five years, and are effective in about 75 percent of people.
Isolate the Allergens
Make sure the bedroom is permanently off limits to anything with fur, since allergens can disrupt your sleep. If possible, you can also keep the pet secluded to one part of the houseÃ¢â‚¬”like the first floor, a finished basement, or an indoor-outdoor area. Although these methods aren't 100 percent effective, some studies show that isolating the pet can help relieve some symptoms, says Tversky.
Keep Fluffy Off the Furniture
Any fabric-covered furniture can be a trap for pet dander, so keep animals off these pieces, suggests Sharon Schumack, Director of Education and Programs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a good idea to ditch the carpet, which can harbor allergens. If they love snuggling up on something soft, reserve a pet bed for him that stays out of your bedroom, and wash it often in hot water.
Invest in a Filter
Another way to reduce the amount of floating pet particles in your home or your partnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s is by using a HEPA filter. The filters, though pricey (around $200 per unit), have been proven in some studies to remove airborne allergens such as cat dander, says Tversky.
Check Your Clothes at the Door
As a last-ditch effort, it can also be helpful to shower and change after being around a pet to rid yourself of any lingering allergens. While this shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be your only defense, it will probably make a modest difference, says Tversky.