Millions of people suffer from asthma. Many of them want to keep pets, but may be hesitant due to the allergic risks of these pets. But what exactly are the links between dogs and asthma? What precautions can an asthmatic person take to keep themselves safe from asthma attacks?
Can Dog Allergies Lead to Asthma?
Animals commonly trigger the symptoms associated with asthma. If you’re allergic to dogs, you may experience asthmatic symptoms. You can develop a pet allergy at any time, which means that even if you had a dog previously without a problem, you still might run into trouble when you adopt a new furry friend.
When animals trigger asthma symptoms, this is referred to as “allergic asthma.”
Allergic reactions are caused when a person comes into contact with a protein they’re allergic to. The immune system overreacts to the contact, releasing histamines into the bloodstream. Histamines and other allergy-related chemicals are what cause classic allergy symptoms like shortness of breath, watery eyes, and nasal congestion.
Dog allergies haven’t been shown to make a person develop asthma. However, in people predisposed to asthma, dog allergies are a common environmental trigger that makes symptoms much worse. Some people receive an asthma diagnosis after a pet allergy makes their once-mild symptoms become impossible to ignore.
Can Dog Hair Cause Asthma?
A dog allergy is actually caused by dog dander. Dander refers to the flakes of dead skin that a dog sheds, along with their saliva. The protein that causes most allergic reactions is most concentrated in dog saliva.
Dog hair isn’t what causes the allergy. It won’t cause you to develop asthma. Because of this, it doesn’t make a difference whether you get a dog that doesn’t shed or that sheds frequently. There is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog, because you’ll always be exposed to some level of dog dander.
That said, dog hair does have the potential to trap dander and other allergens like dust, mold, and pollen. Because of this, it’s important to keep your dog’s coat short and make sure they’re brushed and bathed regularly. Use a dander-eliminating shampoo. Between washes, you may also want to go over their coat with a gentle hypoallergenic cleanser.
Does Pet Dander Affect Asthma?
For most people, pet dander is harmless. You’re not guaranteed to have worsened asthma symptoms if you have a pet. However, if you are allergic to your pet, your chances of worsened asthma increase exponentially. Allergic reactions lead to respiratory distress that makes asthma symptoms worse.
People with mild allergies may not experience any worsened asthma symptoms until they’ve been in contact with the animal for several days. However, people with more moderate to severe allergies might experience breathing problems immediately. Highly allergic people will sometimes get rashes on their face, upper chest, or neck as well.
Lowering the Risk of Asthma Reactions to Animals
For People Who Don’t Have Pets
If you’re aware that you’re about to contact an animal that might trigger your asthma, you should take a nasal spray or antihistamine before the encounter. You might also want to wear a mask or scarf that can cover your mouth and nose. If you’re commonly in contact with animals, you might want to discuss a regular nasal spray with your doctor.
For People Who Do Have Pets
The following methods can help you prevent allergy attacks if you have pets in the home:
- Keep the pets out of your bedroom and living room
- Bathe your dogs and cats once per week
- Brush and groom your dogs and cats regularly
- Keep a dog’s coat short so that the long hairs don’t trap allergens
- For pets living in cages, have someone else be responsible for cleaning the cage
- Invest in an efficient vacuum cleaner that can get small particles out of carpets
- Mop your hardwood floors and regularly dust furniture surfaces, windowsills, and fan blades
- Buy an air purifier with a HEPA filter, which will filter out 99.9% of allergy-causing particles in the air
For People Considering Re-Homing a Pet
If you think you might have to re-home your pet because of the allergy, it’s helpful to get an official allergy test done first. Allergy tests will tell you exactly what causes your allergies. If it’s an environmental trigger other than your pet, like pollen or mold, it’s important to know before you make any final decisions.
Sometimes when people are exposed to another allergen for a long period of time, irritants they aren’t allergic to will begin causing allergy symptoms. This means that if you have a pollen allergy, you may start reacting to your pet’s dander simply because your immune system is in overdrive. Limiting the source of the allergen can make the symptoms go away without you needing to re-home your pet.
If someone in your household begins having asthma symptoms, it’s important to talk to a doctor about the potential environmental triggers. Your GP may refer you to an allergist who can give more in-depth advice for your circumstances.
For People Trying to Choose a Pet
Be aware that if you have allergies already, you’re more likely to develop additional allergies. If possible, do a “trial run” by staying with a friend who has that type of pet. This will help you see if you react without committing to anything.
You might also want to volunteer at a local animal shelter to see if you react. You may have heard of hypoallergenic pets, but no pet is truly “hypoallergenic” since all pets shed skin flakes.