7 tips to cope with pet allergies

Health Xchange
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Furry pets can trigger allergy symptoms (Thinkstock photo)

You may have to think twice before giving your furry pet a smooch or a cuddle if you always end up with watery eyes, a runny rose and an itchy rash.

These are common symptoms of pet allergies, triggered by the proteins secreted through the pet's skin, which are shed as pet dander or tiny dead skin flakes. Invisible to the human eye, these proteins can also be found in your pet's saliva and urine.

When these pet allergens are inhaled or come in direct contact with your skin, a mild to severe allergy may result. Some of the common medical conditions triggered by pet allergies include allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), atopic eczema and atopic dermatitis (nettle rash).

Related video: How to keep your asthma under control

Symptoms of pet allergies

Pet ownership is on the rise in Singapore and furry pets are especially favoured. As of 31 December 2011, there were 59,007 dog licenses according to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), a rise from 44,301 in 2005.

However, furry pets such as dogs, cats, hamsters and birds tend to cause more allergies than non-furry pets. Common allergy symptoms include:

  • Red, watery, itchy eyes
  • Itchy nose, throat or roof of mouth
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Rash or red, irritated skin
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing (asthma)

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Treatment for pet allergies

If staying away from your pet is not an option, you could try certain medications to control your allergy symptoms. These include antihistamines (to relieve sneezing and runny nose), decongestants (to improve breathing), and corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation).

If you have a severe pet allergy, you could consider immunotherapy allergy shots.

7 ways to cope with pet allergies

  1. Give your pet a wash once a week. Bathing your pet regularly can reduce allergens by 90 per cent.
  2. Don't sleep with your pet. No matter how much you adore your furry pet, keep it out of your bedroom, and your bed.
  3. Remove carpets, curtains and upholstered furniture from your home. These tend to trap pet allergens and may trigger allergic reactions when you come into contact with them.
  4. Install an air filter in your home. A high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) can be attached to your air-conditioning system to help eliminate air-borne pet allergens.
  5. Air your home. Make sure you have good home ventilation so fewer pet allergens are trapped.
  6. Establish pet-free areas in your home. Reduce air-borne pet allergens by setting certain areas such as your bedroom, dining room or bathroom off limits to your pet.
  7. Opt for a non-furry pet. If you develop a very strong pet allergy, the best solution is to avoid keeping a furry pet. Instead you could consider exotic fish or a turtle. But if you really want a dog or a cat for companionship, choose smaller or hypoallergenic breeds that shed less dander.

If you suspect you may have a pet allergy, go for an allergy skin test or blood test.

Related article: Tips for parents of children with asthma

This article was written by Teresa Cheong for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Allergy Clinic, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

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