Asthma and Airborne Allergens in the Home

Of all the inhaled allergens that affect indoor air quality, dust is the most common. Dust mites, pet dander, and pollen are common allergens that cause seasonal rhinitis, commonly known as “hay fever.”

Of all the inhaled allergens that affect indoor air quality, dust is the most common. More specifically, the culprits are dust mites and their waste products. Dust mites, pet dander, and pollen are common allergens that cause seasonal rhinitis, commonly known as “hay fever.”

Pet Problems: Cat Allergy and Other Offenders

Cat dander, as well as animal saliva, urine and excrement are recognized as common causes of allergic reaction. However, the animal fur itself is not the problem; it is merely the carrier of common allergens such as dust mites, pollen and mold.

Although cat allergy is very common among asthmatics, dogs, too, have been known to cause allergic symptoms. Bird feathers and droppings are also common sources of allergens. In addition to cats, dogs and birds, other small animals such as rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils may be problematic. Furthermore, their bedding can dramatically affect indoor air quality.

Even outdoor pets, farmyard animals, animal feed and bedding can cause problems. Horses, cows, goats, and poultry can all harbor potent allergens.

A recent study published in the March 30, 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal concluded that common allergens such as dust mites and pet dander might act together with respiratory viruses to make asthma worse. The study also suggested that the probability of asthma sufferers being hospitalized increases considerably if they are exposed to allergens.

Practical Solutions for Pet Allergies

Removing pets is not always a practical option. Current statistics report that over seventy percent of U.S. homes have a dog or cat in residence. This poses something of a dilemma for asthmatics. So, what can be done about pet allergies if exposure to pets is unavoidable?

The common recommendation for decreasing allergic asthma symptoms is a course of immunotherapy shots. On average, treatment continues for at least three years, with symptoms and medication usually decreasing after approximately six months of weekly injections.

Also, if your asthma is allergy-induced, you’d be wise to consult an allergist-immunologist for advice on medications that are appropriate for the treatment of specific animal allergies, such as cat allergy. Typical treatments may include nasal sprays, decongestants, or antihistamines. More information on the options available for treating allergies is available through the Allergy Treatment Tool.

Cat Allergy: New Hope for Asthmatic Cat-Lovers

Until recently, accepted wisdom on the subject was simply to get rid of the cat. Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, head of allergy and asthma at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, holds an opinion that gladdens the hearts of cat lovers.

According to Platts-Mills, not enough evidence supports the standard recommendation to families with allergies or asthma that they “get rid of the cat.” New studies have revealed that, in cases of childhood asthma, if a child tests positive for allergies to dust mites and pollen, but negative for cat dander and the parents still get rid of the cat, the child may later become allergic to cats.

Controlling Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality

Apart from “damage limitation” measures, other practical steps one can take to control the level of allergens in the home environment include the following.

• Restrict pets to certain common rooms, but not the bedroom.
• Locate litter trays far away from sources of air supply to the rest of the
• Bathe your cat or dog regularly (Cats are not as averse to bathing as is
commonly believed, particularly if you start bathing them at a young
• Use a specially designed vacuum cleaner. It can be particularly effective
at removing allergens such as dust mites.
• Eliminate cockroaches (and as far as is feasible, the common allergens,
molds and fungi).
• Improve indoor air quality. Install a central air cleaner and have it
switched on for at least four hours a day.
• Keep bedrooms free of feather or down-filled pillows, quilts and other
• Reduce indoor humidity to less than fifty percent.
• If you are allergic and must visit a home with pets, make sure you take
your medication immediately before the visit.
• Design a “safer” garden. Keep allergens such as grass, tree and weed
pollen to a minimum. Birch tree pollen can be a particular problem. Tomato
plants, interestingly, are also known to cause allergic reactions.

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