It's a conundrum that many households face: Should Lady the golden retriever or Cuddles the tortoiseshell cat get an eviction notice when a family member shows signs of an allergy to the pet?
Not necessarily, according to Long Island health experts. In some cases, the family's cat or dog -- or bird or hamster -- may be due for a reprieve. Here's what you need to know:
1. PET ALLERGIES WORK IN DIFFERENT WAYS
It's not clear why some people develop allergies to pets and things like dust, pollen and mold spores, said Dr. Gary A. Weinstock, an allergist-immunologist and associate attending physician at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
However, it is known that pet allergies aren't all the same. "In dogs, the most important allergens are in their dander -- like dandruff -- and their shedding of hair and fur just helps to spread the dander," Weinstock said. "In cats, the most important allergen is concentrated in their saliva, so when they clean and preen themselves, the saliva gets on their fur and the hairs will carry the allergen as they are shed."
Allergy testing is the way to determine exactly what's triggering a possible allergic reaction from a pet, said Dr. Sharon B. Markovics, who's board-certified in allergy and immunology and based in Manhasset. "Some patients believe they have a pet allergy when, in fact, it is the pollen and mold carried into the home on the pet that exposes the pet's owner to those allergens."
2. GETTING RID OF THE PET IS THE BEST SOLUTION, BUT . . .
Both Weinstock and Markovics said the preferred way to get rid of pet allergies is to get rid of the pet. "The best way to treat any type of allergy has always been to avoid exposure to the problem allergen," Weinstock said. "Medications can reduce and mask symptoms but do not prevent the allergic reactions from occurring."
However, he said that allergy injections can be a "very effective" method in the long-term. Even better, the injections can actually help the body adjust to exposure to allergens, allowing people to tolerate them more easily over time, he said.
3. CHANGING THE ENVIRONMENT CAN HELP
If you choose to keep a pet when someone is allergic, the animal should be restricted to an uncarpeted room that's not the person's bedroom, Markovics said.
To prevent symptoms, she recommends that the pet be washed regularly and kept off upholstered furniture, which can hold allergens, as much as possible. Vacuums with HEPA filters can help, too. "Combining measures may alleviate symptoms and reduce need for medication," she said.
Home may not be the only problem locale, however. "It's important to realize that animal allergens are present in schools, offices and public places," Markovics said. "An example is the cat-allergic child returning to school into a classroom with many cat owners. There is a significant risk of an asthma flare."
4. BE CAREFUL ABOUT 'HYPOALLERGENIC' PETS
Some pets, such as the so-called "hairless" cats, have been labeled as hypoallergenic because they produce less dander. But Weinstock cautioned that they can still exacerbate allergies.
"There is no such thing as a completely 'hypoallergenic pet,' " he said. "This is an unscientific old wives' tale/urban legend that can cause great disappointment if allergies subsequently occur. People can have widely varied symptoms from any given individual pet, but there is no way possible to predict whether or when an individual will react to a pet."
5 NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO PREVENT ALLERGIES IN THE FIRST PLACE
"Allergy research has not yet found out how to prevent allergy symptoms from developing from the ubiquitous environmental allergens, including dust, mold spores and pollens," Weinstock said.
One theory, known as the "hygiene hypothesis," suggests that early exposure in life to a variety of allergens through such activities as playing in the dirt may prevent allergies from developing, he said. But other research indicates that it's better to avoid the allergens in the first place.
ALLERGY & IMMUNOLOGY
Dr. Mitchell Boxer
2001 Marcus Ave.
Dr. Russell P. Cancellieri
596 Hampton Rd.
Dr. Robert N. Corriel
1129 Northern Blvd.
Dr. Bruce L. Edwards
700 Old Country Rd.
Dr. Luz Fonacier
120 Mineola Blvd.
Dr. Marianne Frieri
Dr. Stanley Goldstein
242 Merrick Rd.
Dr. Louis E. Guida Jr.
Bay Shore Allergy and
Asthma Specialty Practice
649 Montauk Hwy.
Dr. Paul Lang
1 Hollow Lane
New Hyde Park
Dr. Paul A. Lusman
120 North Country Rd.
Dr. Sharon B. Markovics
1129 Northern Blvd.
Dr. Daniel L. Mayer
263 E. Main St.
Dr. Brian Novick
30 Newbridge Rd.
Dr. Steven Satnick
900 Main St.
Dr. Marc Sicklick
123 Grove Ave.
Dr. Gary A. Weinstock
310 E. Shore Rd.
Dr. David Wertheim
Pro-HEALTH Care Associates
2800 Marcus Ave.
How they were picked
Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. is a health-care research and information company founded in 1991 by a former medical college, board chairman and president to help guide consumers to America's top doctors and top hospitals. Castle Connolly's established survey and research process, under the direction of a doctor, involves tens of thousands of top doctors and the medical leadership of leading hospitals.
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