Why Are Some People Allergic to Dogs?
Certain dog proteins that are associated with dog fur cause allergic reactions in some people. In such an allergic reaction, the fur is inhaled and the immune systems of these individuals recognize the incoming fur proteins as "foreign invaders" and, in response, send out cells that attack the foreign proteins as part of an overall body defense. A detrimental result of this activity is that it can cause the individual to experience one or more annoying symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, wheezing and other breathing problems, itchy eyes, coughing, facial pain, hives, itchy skin, and exacerbation of asthma, to name a few. If symptoms persist for several days or if they become severe (and especially if anaphylaxis occurs), a visit to a doctor is advised.
How Are Allergic Reactions to Dogs Treated?
The first step that someone who is suffering from an allergic reaction to dogs should take is obvious: Stay as far away as possible from all dogs. In some instances, simply distancing oneself from dogs will lessen or even fully alleviate all symptoms. In many other cases, however, people who are allergic to dogs, and particularly those who are highly sensitive, will not be able to distance themselves enough to overcome or avoid all allergy symptoms. (This may be true when a nearby co-worker transports dog fur into the workplace on his clothes, for example.)
For those who cannot get away from dogs sufficiently enough to overcome their allergy symptoms, there are many treatment options available. These treatment options include:
- Antihistamines. Antihistamine drugs (e.g., Clarinex and Allegra) act by blocking the normal activity of the body’s immune system (again, this activity is what is responsible for causing allergic reactions). Antihistamines are offered both by prescription and over-the-counter and come in many forms, including tablets and capsules, as an injectable or drinkable liquid, in nasal spray, and in eye drops.
- Decongestants. Decongestants are helpful mainly for alleviating stuffy noses, but should only be used for a few days as decongestant overuse can actually exacerbate nasal congestion. Further, decongestants are not for everyone. Those who should not take decongestants include those with heart problems and men with swollen prostate glands, as decongestants can make these conditions even worse.
- Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids (e.g., Flonase and Nasonex) are useful for reducing inflammation and alleviating hay fever symptoms. Corticosteroids are offered in topical form for application directly to the skin, in lung inhalers, in nasal spray, and in eye drops. For those who have severe symptoms, corticosteroids that are available in injectable or pill form are the best option.
- Other Medicines. Other options that are sometimes selected in treating dog allergy symptoms include leukotriene inhibitors (e.g., Singulair), which, like antihistamines, help to block the activity of the immune system, and allergy shots. Allergy shots, however, have no effect in some people, and are cumbersome to use as doing so requires multiple trips to the doctor’s office.
Some dog allergy sufferers also may find it helpful to relieve nasal symptoms simply by rinsing their nasal passages. This can be achieved by using one of the many available saline sprays that are on the market or, for the do-it-yourselfer, by stirring about 1/4 teaspoon of table salt into two cups of warm water and then flushing the nasal passages with the warm saltwater with a rubber bulb (such as the kind that is used to remove debris from a baby’s nose immediately after birth).
If you are in need of treatment for dog allergies, it is recommended that you consult your doctor. She can inform you which treatment options are best for you.
Mayo Clinic, Pet Allergy: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pet-allergy/DS00859
Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health, Allergies: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000812.htm