Pets OK for the allergy sufferer


By Charlene Laino - MSNBC - http://www.msnbc.com/news/718394.asp?0dm=C14OH&cp1=1

NEW YORK, March 4, 2002 - It's a pet joke of many doctors: Tell the allergy sufferer to get rid of his cat, and he'll get rid of the allergist instead. But the truth is, there's not much merit to advice to give away the pet to begin with, one of the nation's leading allergists said Monday.

CONTRARY TO what's long been advised, people who suffer from the itchy eyes, sniffling and sneezing of allergies need not get rid of their feline companions, said Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, head of allergy and asthma at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"You usually hear that families [with allergies] should get rid of their cats," he said. "But we do not have enough evidence to say to families with allergies or asthma that they should do this."

In fact, putting the cat out may bring bad luck - or at least worse symptoms, according to Platts-Mills. New studies show that if a child tests positive for allergies to pollen and dust mites, but negative for cat dander, and parents give away the pet, "it's quite possible the child will become allergic to cats," he said.

Another study shows that kids with a dog or a cat in the house get less asthma - with two pets being more protective than one. "One cat will do," Platts-Mills said, "but two - two dogs, two cats, a cat and a dog - is even better."


It's all part of the new "dirt is good for you" theory. Current dogma among allergists is that exposing a child early in life to dust, dander and other allergens will help the body to build up immunity against them - just like a vaccination.

Conversely, clean living has an adverse effect: Studies show if that if children escape multiple infections or are not exposed to allergens as infants, their immune systems later overreact to dander or other things that cause allergies.

That's why children who grow up on farms are less likely to develop allergies or asthma than those who reside in hermetically sealed apartments, Platts-Mills explained. Or why in Sweden, 80 percent of kids who are allergic to cats have never had a cat.


Other new research shows that the protection afforded by having a cat is not permanent, he said. "You raise a kid with a cat who has allergies, but not to the cat; he goes off to college, spends a few months away and comes back to visit," Platts-Mills said. "But now he is allergic to that cat - he has lost that protection."

Dr. John Costa, an allergist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, said he is also aware of the so-called "Thanksgiving effect."

"Perhaps a lucrative business would be cat hair-filled pillows for college students," he joked.

In truth, though, it is not cat hair that provokes the runny nose, watery eyes and other symptoms of an allergic reaction, but rather their dander, or dead skin flakes, and a protein in the saliva, he said.

The experts spoke Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Also at the meeting, British researchers reported that contrary to common belief, modern, high-efficiency vacuum cleaners do not rid carpeting of cat dander - in fact, the newer models increase allergen levels just as much as the leaky machines of years past.

Don't let the more expensive models lull you into a false sense of security, said Dr. Robin Gore of the North West Lung Centre in Manchester, England.

Even though they do not leak like old vacuum cleaners, the new high -efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, machines stir things up, raising levels of dander-laden dust in a room, Gore said. The sweeping action may even blow settled dander off the walls and into your nose, he said. Gore compared six vacuum cleaners, four of which were newer HEPA-filter models.


So what should you do if you are allergic to cats? Platts-Mills offered this advice:

"No matter how allergic you are to cats, these simple measures can reduce symptoms by 95 percent," Platts-Mills said.



Animal lovers who suffer from allergies don't necessarily have to live without animal companions. Steps can be taken to allow pets and allergies to live together, according to Bruce Darkow, product manager for Aprilaire(R) High Efficiency Air Cleaners.

For example, Dr. Brian Darrow, an Iowa veterinarian, has been living without pets because of his wife's animal allergy. Now, by following a few guidelines, the Darrow family is enjoying a new puppy.

"Until recently, I was known as the vet without a pet," Darrow said. "Our kids badly wanted a dog, and my wife and I didn't want them to miss out on that experience. We decided to try to take some steps to allow the kids to have a dog without making my wife miserable. We keep the dog out of our bedroom, we take turns vacuuming so my wife's allergies aren't aggravated, and we installed a high efficiency air cleaner. The air cleaner, built into our heating and cooling system, can remove most of the particles that carry animal allergens through the air."

"Allergists agree that the best treatment for animal allergies is avoiding animals. But that doesn't always mean you have to live without pets. Especially if the allergies are moderate," Darkow said. "There are steps you can take to limit your exposure to animal allergens at home."

The best strategy for eliminating animal allergens from the home is to keep the pet outside, but since that isn't an optin for a FAMILY PET, some allergists recommend the following strategy:

  • Don't allow your pet in carpeted areas of the home
  • Keep your pet out of the bedroom and off your furniture
  • Eliminate carpeting and upholstered furniture as much as possible
  • Provide good ventilation in the house
  • Use a high efficiency air cleaner
  • Operate your furnace fan continuously or for at least two hours after vacuuming
  • Have a non-allergic family member do the vacuuming
  • Leave combing, grooming and litter box clean-up to non-allergic family members. Brush your pet, preferably outside, once a day

For more information on how animals and allergies can live together, contact the Aprilaire consumer information department at Research Products Corporation at 800-545-2219.


Additional Pet Allergy Tips

  • Brush your pet outdoors
  • Wipe your pet down daily with a damp towel
  • Wear a dust mask if you are doing these things yourself, and wash your hands afterward
  • Connect an air filter to your furnace
  • Make your bedroom a pet-free sanctuary

    This is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice from Dalmatian Adoption and Rescue. Please speak with your own doctor for a medical opinion.

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