What Is Animal Dander?
While it is commonly thought that it is the hair from pets that causes the allergic cascade leading to asthma symptoms and that short-haired animals are less allergic for asthmatics, both are myths. In fact, it is dander or the proteins in skin flakes, urine, feces, saliva and hair that trigger your asthma symptoms.
These proteins are very small particles that are carried through the air and can come to land on a body part that comes into contact with your nose or mouth (like your finger) or the particles can be directly inhaled into the lung. You may notice symptoms immediately or may not develop them for 8 to 12 hours.
Pets all shed a certain amount of allergen producing dander per week. In this sense, there are no "hypoallergenic" pets, but some produce less allergen than others and may be a better choice if you really want a pet.
How Can I Decrease My Animal Dander Exposure?
Removing your pet from the home and avoiding contact with the pet is the most effective way to decrease exposure to animal dander. A "trial removal" is not recommended as it may take as many as 20 weeks following removal for allergen levels to fall to levels similar to those of homes without pets. If you do remove the pet from the home, make sure you thoroughly clean all bedding products, floors, carpets and other surfaces where dander may collect.
If pet removal is going to produce depression, crying and gnashing of teeth for you or your child, making the pet an "outside only" animal is a partial solution, but will not fully decrease your exposure to animal dander. If that is also too restrictive, consider the following suggestions:
- Keep the pet out of bedrooms and other place where you or your child spends a lot of time
- Consider bathing the animal weekly to reduce allergen exposure, but realize this may increase dander exposure if the allergic person is doing the washing
- Do not have the allergic person clean the animal's cage, living space or litter box
- Consider hardwood, tile or linoleum flooring as these products do not retain allergens like carpeting
- HEPA clean air filters may may reduce your allergen exposure
- Keep pets away from fabric covered furniture, carpets and stuffed toys as much as possible.
- Unfortunately, frequent vacuuming does not decrease dander exposure, but using a HEPA vacuum filter or double bag may decrease exposure if you must vacuum.
What If I Don't Have a Pet Yet?
If you already know you have allergy symptoms or want to make sure you or your child will not develop symptoms from a particular pet, consider spending time with someone that has the pet you wish to get before purchasing. Alternatively, consider animals that typically do not cause or worsen allergies like:
- Hermit crabs
- Aquarium fish
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: January 1, 2009. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma
Tips to Remember. Indoor Allergens Accessed March 31, 2009.
Indoor Environmental Asthma Triggers. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed March 30, 2009. Pets