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Allergies & Living with a Pet

written by Guest Blogger October 1, 2013

Do you have a pet or want a pet? Do you have allergies that are preventing you from enjoying your pet or getting one that you so desperately want? Then you might like this guest post by Michael Ravitsky! 

Millions of us North Americans own a pet, and millions, too, have allergies. So, what happens when these two populations intersect? You get a conflicted and frustrated group of people! This article will shed some light on what it means to be allergic to something, what exactly pet dander is, and ways you can alleviate or avoid your pet allergy symptoms.

First, let’s establish what an allergy is. Basically, your body is extremely proficient at taking care of itself. The inflammatory response is a set of reactions in your body that occur automatically when your immune system thinks it may be in danger. This is actually happening all the time; your body is constantly fighting off infection and damage from foodborne bacteria, airborne viruses, fungal spores, and toxins.

There are many ways in which your body may react to foreign irritants; this can include the stimulation of white blood cells and other cells that help destroy harmful microorganisms or filter out nonorganic toxins. You may experience your body working on these things via headaches, sneezing, coughing, rashes, swelling, wheezing, teary eyes, and a runny nose.

In short, an allergy is when your body has incorrectly identified a substance as something harmful. This is specific to each person’s body, and it is somewhat of a mistake since an allergy tends to be a reaction to a substance that is relatively harmless: pollen granules, dust, and pet dander.

Now, let’s talk about pet dander itself. “Pet dander” actually does not refer to an animal’s fur, and fur is not a common allergen, although fur often carries dander with it. Dander consists of very small flakes of dead skin that the animal sheds. These flakes are typically between 2 and 10 microns across; this is several times smaller than the width of a human hair. The allergen here is actually a series of proteins contained within the dander, and a person may be allergic to several different proteins. These proteins can also be found in the animal’s saliva or urine.

Given the size and shape of pet dander particles, they can stay airborne for incredibly long periods of time and easily stick to surfaces. The worst types of surfaces are soft and plush fabrics, such as sofas, blankets, cushions, clothing, and stuffed animals.

The first step in dealing with pet allergies involves minimizing these objects. Try to keep one room with all of your pet’s favorite toys and climbing equipment so that activity is concentrated there and is minimized throughout the rest of the home or apartment. If your pet allergy is severe, you may want to consider getting rid of unnecessary cushions, soft furniture, and stuffed animals. Many people have replaced carpet with wooden flooring or tile to reduce the collection of allergens.

A second point is to wash all surfaces weekly with a HEPA (High Energy Particulate Air filter) vacuum wherever possible. This includes floors and walls. Launder clothing, bed sheets, blankets, and pillowcases often. If you wish to keep soft furniture, have it steam-cleaned regularly.

Another option is to run a portable HEPA air purifier or look into a HEPA air filtration system that integrates with your home’s HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system. Such a machine takes advantage of the powerful air circulation that your HVAC system generates, running the air through its filtration media. A true HEPA filter is capable of trapping 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns across that pass through it.

See our Best Air Purifiers for Pets page for some examples and more resources on allergies and respiratory sensitivities.


About the Author

Michael Ravitsky of FactoryPure.com is a part-time small business owner and business student at the McCombs School of Business in Austin, Texas. Having had respiratory sensitivities since age 3, he grew up getting accustomed to suffering from chronic allergies. In recent years, however, he has worked on finding ways to alleviate allergy symptoms via lifestyle changes.

Do you have any tips that could help a pet owner or potential pet owner with their allergies?

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