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Strategies for coping with pet allergies

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It is estimated that up to 30% of the human population is allergic to household pets. Though the only way to completely treat pet allergies is to remove the pet from the home, there are many strategies that can be employed to lessen the effects of pet allergies and avoid parting ways with the offending pet. Here are just a few of the ways to cope with pet allergies:

1. Vacuum and dust often. The more often you clean, the less pet hair you have to deal with. Though it's not the actual hair that causes allergies, the allergy-causing dander does remain on hair and skin flakes that are shed by the animal.

2. Eliminate cloth window coverings. Cloth drapes and blinds are a magnet for pet dander. Wherever possible, use plastic, vinyl or metal blinds. They can be easily dusted and will not collect as many allergens as cloth drapery.

3. Designate a "pet free" room. Allergy sufferers should have at least one room in the home that is totally "pet free." Often the bedroom is the best place to have such a room. The door should remain closed at all times, and the pet should not be allowed to enter the room at any time.

4. Purchase allergy-reducing pillow cases and bed covers. Allergy-reducing pillowcases and mattress covers do not accumulate allergens the way normal fabric covers would. The fabric is impermeable, so it aids with pet allergies and the often-accompanying dust mite allergy. Wash these covers on a weekly basis.

5. Use hardwood wherever possible. Carpet collects animal hair as fast as your pet can shed it. Even with thorough vacuuming pet hair can still remain embedded. Hardwood floors are much easier to clean and do not collect hair as carpet does. The next time the carpet needs replacing, consider hardwood as an alternative.

6. Use filters everywhere. Purchase allergy-reducing furnace filters and change them once per month. Purchase a vacuum with a HEPA filter to eliminate airborne allergens. Run a HEPA air purifier at all times to reduce airborne allergens. Wherever an allergy-reducing filter can be used, use it!

7. Bathe your pet. Though your pet may not appreciate it, bathing them once a week can wash away much of the loose hair and dead skin cells that harbors dander. If bathing is out of the question, there are also allergy-reducing wipes that can be used to wipe the pet's fur and theoretically lessen the dander.

8. Consider immunotherapy. If your pet allergy is medically diagnosed and interferes with daily life, talk to your allergist about immunotherapy (or allergy shots.) This is a process that typically takes several years to complete. A small amount of the allergen is injected into the allergy sufferer; the dosage is increased as time goes on. Eventually, the person will be immune to the allergen or at least suffer a less severe reaction.

9. Take an antihistamine daily. Many antihistamines that previously required a prescription are now availble over the counter. Claritin and Zyrtec are two of the more popular brands. They are also available in generic form as Loratadine (Claritin) or Cetirizine (Zyrtec.) If one brand does not work, try another. Taking an antihistamine daily rather than on an as-needed basis can help prevent allergy symptoms rather than just treating the symptoms as they occur.

10. Purchase a central air cleaner. Forced-air heating and cooling can essentially blow allergens out of the vents and all over your house. A central air cleaning unit (such as April Aire) can be purchased to clean the air before it is circulated. If this is not possible to purchase, an alternative is to place a breathable cover (such as cheesecloth) over the vent to trap particles.

Before making any drastic changes to your lifestyle, make an appointment with an allergist to be tested for specific allergies. Though it may seem like your pet is the culprit, you may actually be allergic to something entirely different. A visit to the allergist will allow you to pinpoint your specific allergy triggers. Your allergist can also provide you with other options for controlling pet allergies if your pet does prove to be the guilty party.

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