Am I Allergic to my Pet?

Don’t guess whether you are allergic.  Some people who believe they are allergic to cats with fur will miraculously not have symptoms around hairless cats.  You are probably not allergic to cats.  Just as I stated in my “5 Myths about Sphynx Cats” post, if you were allergic, it would be to the entire cat, not just the hair.  Same with dogs.  A runny nose and itchy eyes may be dust mites or the shampoo used to bathe your pet.  Don’t guess, get a panel test.

There are three types of allergies. There is environmental, medical, and food.  There isn’t a way to test for specific food allergies (honest).  There is a test for peanut sensitivity, but most food is too complex to do a serum test.  You will know you have one by your body reactions; vomiting, hives, extreme gastric pain, anaphylaxis. Medication allergies can be just as violent. However, you can test for these sensitivities such as penicillin and Wellbutrin drugs.  Most panel tests are chemical and environmental allergens; the latter includes cats and dogs (sorry, no test for other mammals and amphibians, but yes for arachnids and insects).  If you suspect you have an allergy to ANYTHING, it is important that you seek a professional and know for sure.

The Panel test is relatively painless.  A serum containing allergen is on needles.  The needles are tiny, just long enough to infiltrate the first couple of layer of the Dermis.  After 20 minutes the reaction at the site of penetration is measured.  The bigger the reaction, greater the sensitivity.

Your doctor will give you some choices after your test.  Food and Medication allergies are straightforward, avoid them altogether.  You will probably be prescribed ann epinephrine injection pen if your allergy is severe.  Epinephrine slows the histamine overload in most cases, but you will still need to seek emergency care if you have an anaphylaxis episode.

For environmental allergies, you can first reduce your exposure.  There are medications to reduce your symptoms, and you can work to reduce or eliminate your sensitivity through injections.  Allergy shots take anywhere from 3-5 years, and the effect is not always permanent.  I am currently taking allergy shots since moving to my mother’s home.  She has wall-to-wall carpeting and curtains (I’ll explain in the next post why that is a problem), and my symptoms skyrocketed.  I had a shot every week for eight months before I reach what is called “maintenance.” I now receive one shot a month.  If at anytime I have a bad reaction to my shot the allergist can reduce my dose, and I would have to work my way back to a full dose by coming in once a week just as before. Though my symptoms have reduced, I still react if my exposure is high.  Along with the shots, I had to change my environment.

Next post – The Simple Life is not so Simple

Bless the Child - Words for Wednesday

I am fortunate to be in touch with the catteries from where I adopted Lexi Liu.  I get valuable breed information as well as see the other beautiful cats in their care.  Two catteries, one in South Africa where Lexi was born and one in Virginia where I adopted Lexi will at time trade breeding cats.  It is essential to keeping the gene pool varied and healthy (that's how Lexi Liu came to the U.S.).  Recently the cattery in Virgina welcomes Disal Churchill from South Africa.  It turns out he is one of Lexi's sons.  He is a handsome boy, round-faced and stout like his mom.  Welcome to America Mr. Churchill!

Living with Allergies when Pets are Involved

I am allergic to my cats. Doesn’t that beat all?  My allergy to the cats has not been a lifelong condition.  Like most allergies, it developed over time.  I’m also allergic to dogs, dust mites, some grasses, and trees.  The irony in all of this is not only am I a cat owner, but I also ran an immunology clinic when I was in the Army (after a knee injury put a stop to para-jumping out of helicopters). 

I can remember at some point while living with cats and visiting my sister’s home (she has dogs) having a runny nose, watery eyes and lots of phlegm, but I was a smoker too and just thought it was the cigarettes until I stopped smoking and the symptoms continued. I was tested before (allergy techs practice on each other) and only showed an allergy to trees.  However, the symptoms continued and by this time I already had Jake and Maus and had just started caring for Moshe Moshi.  Just to rule it out I have a full panel skin test.  I was floored and crushed, and I had to decide what to do.

You only have two choices when it comes to being allergic to your pets; remove the allergen or manage your exposure.  Neither was going to be easy.  I let my heart speak for me and decided to keep the cats, although I wasn’t sure how to manage it.

This week, I going to blog about how I manage my allergies to my cats.  Some practices have to do with my environment; some are to do with the cats. Managing one over the other is not easy. If you are facing the same decision, you need to keep in mind that your regiment is probably going to be life long, as long as your allergen is present. Yes, I chose to keep my cats, but there is no shame if you decide your quality or your pet’s quality of life is severely affected by the tasks needed to coexist. Giving your pets up may be the most humane choice.  I'm happy to let my example help you decide.

Next Post - I am Allergic to my Pet?
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