If you find yourself sneezing, coughing, or feeling itchy every time you’re around dogs, you’re not alone. Dog allergies are a common but often misunderstood condition, affecting a significant portion of the population. About 20-30% of the world population are affected by a pet allergy and are allergic to either cats or to dogs.
Cat allergy is more prevalent, but dog dander can be just as problematic. Living with these allergies can be challenging, especially for animal lovers.
By understanding what triggers your allergies and how to effectively manage them, you can hopefully find a balance between your health and your love for your pets. If you are unsure what you might be allergic to, then allergy testing is the first step to living a higher quality of life.
Whether you go with us or another provider, make sure that the allergy test is either based on a blood test or a skin prick. There are unfortunately a lot of alternative medicine providers out there that claim to test you for allergies, but the tests have not been proven to work and are no endorsed by the medical community.
What Causes Dog Allergies?
Dog allergies are triggered not by the fur of the dog, as commonly believed, but primarily by their dander, saliva, and urine. These three components are where most of the allergens come from.
Dander is unique to animals with fur or feathers. Cats, dogs, and others all shed dander, which is tiny flecks of dead skin. After shedding, these microscopic particles turn airborne and are notorious for triggering allergic reactions. For example, if dander is inhaled, this can trigger allergic rhinitis or breathing problems. If it lands on the skin, it could trigger itchiness, rashes, and so on.
Dog saliva can also contain allergens. When a dog licks us or itself, allergens in its saliva get transferred onto its fur or skin. When the saliva dries, the allergens become airborne.
And finally… urine
Though less common, dog urine can also be a source of allergens. Similar to dander, dried particles of urine can become airborne and inhaled, leading to allergic reactions. The type of reaction will depend on where the airborne particles land and the severity of the dog allergy.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
Just like with any allergic reaction, the severity of the symptoms will depend on the amount of allergen you have exposed to, and your own immune response.
Here are some of the most common dog allergy symptoms experienced by patients:
- Breathing problems: These include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and nasal congestion. Some individuals may also experience coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. In chronic conditions like asthma, these allergens could even cause a non infective exacerbation of asthma.
- Skin Reactions: Contact with dog dander, saliva, or urine can lead to skin reactions such as redness, itching, or hives, especially in areas where the dog has licked, scratched, or nipped.
- Eye Irritation: Allergic reactions often involve the eyes, leading to allergic conjunctivitis. This often manifests itself with redness, itching, and watering of the eye.
- Other Symptoms: In some cases, individuals may experience more systemic symptoms such as angioedema (swelling of the face and tongue), or even anaphylaxis, although this is rare.
Dog Allergy Test
Taking a dog allergy test has now become very straightforward. Just like getting tested for allergy to nuts, mould, or dust, there are two common diagnostic procedures:
Skin Prick Test
This is the gold standard in allergy testing. A small amount of concentrated allergen extract is placed on your skin, which is then lightly pricked. The prick is just enough to pierce the top layer of the skin, the epidermis. This allows a small amount of allergen to seep into the skin. If you’re allergic, you’ll develop a raised bump or reaction at the site.
You can read more about the skin prick procedure here, and how you can prepare for this. For example, you must stop taking certain medications like antihistamines a few days before, otherwise the test can give false negative results.
IgE RAST testing
This is a blood test that measures the level of IgE antibodies in response to specific allergens, including dog dander. This also comes with its pros and cons and you can read more about the procedure here.
|Skin Prick Test
|Small amounts of allergens tested on the skin
|Quick results, highly accurate
|Can be uncomfortable, less suitable for those with certain skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or chronic spontaneous urticaria.
|Measures IgE antibodies in blood
|Non-invasive, no age restrictions
|Can be more expensive, takes longer to get results
As the best testing method will depend on your circumstances, it’s advisable to first consult with an allergist who can explain both methods to you.
Managing Dog Allergies
Living with dog allergies doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid dogs completely. With the right strategies, you can manage your symptoms and reduce your exposure to these allergens.
Limit exposure to allergens
Adjusting your environment in order to reduce the amount of dog dander, saliva and urine in the air, should be the top priority.
Vacuum and clean your home frequently using HEPA filters that have been shown to reduce dander.
You could also try using air purifiers with HEPA filters to capture airborne allergens.
You could also designate “pet free zones” in your home, such as your bedroom. As dander can easily get trapped in the bedding, this is important especially if you are getting dog allergy symptoms at night.
Medical treatment for dog allergies can involve antihistamines, decongestants or nasal steroid sprays which can relieve symptoms.
Immunotherapy for dog allergies is also an option. Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy can gradually desensitise your immune system to dog allergens.
Although more troublesome, washing your hands after petting dogs (including your own) can help minimise allergen exposure.
Choosing more hypoallergenic dog breeds is also an option. While no dog breed is completely hypoallergenic, some breeds are known to produce fewer allergens.
In conclusion, taking a dog allergy test might just be the right step forward for you if you are concerned that you might be allergic to dogs. If you do turn out to be allergic to dogs, this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the joy they bring.
With the right strategies, from identifying the symptoms and getting an accurate diagnosis to adopting effective management and treatment plans, you can still enjoy the company of these wonderful animals.