Animals secrete oily fluids from their skin, which contain allergens called dander. These fluids collect on fur, feathers and other surfaces inside the home, and they can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Proteins in the animal's saliva also cause allergic reactions. These allergens are so small that they can become airborne for extended periods of time.
An allergy, or hypersensitivity reaction, occurs when the body's immune system overreacts to a substance that is normally harmless (allergen), such as animal dander, mold, pollen or dust mites.
The white blood cells of an allergic individual produce an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which attaches to the allergen. This triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that cause allergic symptoms, such as runny nose, watery eyes and hives.
Allergic reactions to pets with fur or feathers are common, especially among people who have other allergies or asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 15-30% of people with allergies are allergic to cats and dogs. Individuals who are allergic to dogs may be allergic to all dogs or just certain breeds. Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies.
Allergies to animals can take two or more years to develop, and the symptoms may not subside until months after discontinuing contact with the animals.
Allergy treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. Many lifestyle changes, such as limiting the pet to certain areas of the home, can be made to reduce allergy symptoms. Commonly used allergy medications include antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants and immunotherapy (allergy shots). Patients who have allergic asthma that is triggered by animal dander may benefit from asthma medications.
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