Ask The Doctor:
Pets & Allergies...
"My otherwise healthy kid has been sniffling since we brought a hamster into our previously pet-free home. He is already attached to his furry friend, but I'm afraid he might be allergic. What do we do?"
Furry and feathered pets are among the most common and potent triggers of allergy symptoms. Most animals will secret oils and shed skin particles (dander) that contain proteins (the allergens) that cause the allergic response. The allergies can cause any combination of sneezing, coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, hives and itching of the nose, mouth or throat. These allergens are tiny and easily become airborne. This is why some people can merely walk into a room and develop allergy symptoms even when the offending animal is not in the house. It can take months for these tiny traces of animal dander to decompose to the point where they no longer trigger someone's allergies. If a pet allergy is suspected, your child's doctor can help by getting a good medical history and testing the child's blood. Sometimes a referral to an allergist may even be necessary to rule out pet allergies. The best treatment for this condition is to find a new home for the pet. For families with a member having these allergies, the idea of sending it to another home is often hard to accept. Many prefer to keep the animal and then battle with the problem. If you decide to keep the pet then there are several recommendations to help minimize the child's exposure to the allergy triggers. If possible, keep the pet outside. If the animal is going to be in the house, then keep it out of the child's bedroom. Vacuum frequently and consider the use of a HEPA filter air purifier to trap as much airborne particles as possible. Antihistamines are medications which can block the allergic reaction. These are the mainstay of medical treatment. These can be either taken by mouth or sprayed into the nose. Nasal steroid sprays and oral montelukast (Singulair) are used as well, often in combination with the antihistamines. So if your child is prone to allergies, think long and hard before bringing a pet into your home.