For a person with dog allergies, life in a dog-loving society isn't easy. Dog dander gets everywhere, including places where dogs have never set a paw.
So how can you get through life with an allergy to man's best friend? Here's a rundown of the causes and treatments of dog allergies, along with tips on how to reduce your exposure.
Symptoms of dog allergies
The symptoms of dog allergies are usually like those of any other airborne allergy. They include:
Some people with dog allergies also have skin reactions. For instance, their skin might break out where a dog slobbers on them. Others with more severe allergies might develop hives on their face or chest. People with asthma as well as pet allergies can have particularly severe symptoms.
Causes of dog allergies
You may have heard that some dog breeds trigger allergy symptoms while others don't, or that short-haired dogs are safe while long-haired dogs prone to shedding are not. However, on the whole, experts say that this isn't the case. In fact, different dogs of the same breed can give off varying levels of allergen.
It's not the dog's hair or fur that's the real problem. Instead, people are usually allergic to the dander - flakes of dead skin - as well as the saliva and urine. So no matter how long or short the hair, any dog can potentially cause an allergic reaction.
You might wonder why dog dander has such an effect on you. People with allergies have oversensitive immune systems. Their bodies overreact to harmless substances - like dog dander - and attack it as they would bacteria or viruses. The sneezing and watery eyes are just the side effects of your body's attempt to destroy or flush out the allergen.
Testing for dog allergies
Your doctor can arrange for you to have either a skin test or a blood test called a RAST (radioallergosorbent test) to find out if you have dog allergies. Even if you're fairly certain that you're allergic, testing is always a good idea. Some people who assume that they have dog allergies turn out not to have them. Instead, they're allergic to the pollen or mould that the dog is carrying in on its coat from outside.
While allergy tests are helpful, they're not always conclusive. So if you own a dog, your doctor might want you to try living without it for a while to see what happens. To get a good sense of your symptoms, it might take some extended time apart. It often takes months before the level of dander in the house drops down to a level resembling that of a house without a dog.