Q: I have started getting an asthmatic reaction when I’m at home, and my doctor thinks it’s my cat. The last thing I want to do is give him away. What should I do? A. This scenario is all too common: A person gets a chronic case of the sniffles, itches, or shortness of breath. Or their child or partner does. The doctor proclaims that that the cat (or dog) is to blame, and should go. Unfortunately, many allergy-sufferers act too swiftly and dump their pet at a local animal shelter where the kitty or doggy goes from a warm home to a cold cage in a scary shelter, and that pet is often killed just because an owner gets a stuffed-up nose. Allergic reactions often stem from exposure to a number of different triggers. Cumulatively you may reach a threshold at which your asthma or sinuses get aggravated by any and all of them. Often, if you reduce your exposure to most of the triggers, you'll be able to tolerate the few that remain. So, instead of dumping a beloved pet, take the following steps to identify and eliminate other things that might be exacerbating your symptoms.
1. Try going dairy free.Although we’ve grown up thinking that a glass of milk is a good thing, humans are the only species who consume milk (and milk products) into adulthood, and also the only species that consumes the milk of another species. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a high prevalence of lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk properly) and allergies to milk proteins (mucus forming after milk is consumed). If you eat dairy products every day, you may not even realize that your constant sinusitis or shortness of breath is due to phlegm in your throat caused by what you eat. If you do eat dairy product regularly and you are an allergy sufferer, it’s worth going dairy free for three or four weeks to see if your symptoms subside. If you’re worried about missing out on calcium or compromising your bone health, you needn’t be. You can get plenty of calcium from other food sources. I’ve written more about ditching dairy and calcium-rich dairy-free foods.
2. Look for sulfite-free wine.Who doesn’t love chilling out with a delicious glass of red or white wine? People who get headaches or congestion from the sulfites that are used to preserve the wine. Some people need only to take a sip before symptoms kick in. Others may have a delayed response. If you are a wine drinker and allergy-sufferer, it’s a good idea to see if you can connect the two. Do symptoms flare up around the times when you’ve had some wine? If so, look for sulfite-free or low-sulfite wines. Some, but not all, organic wines are low in sulfites. I’ve written more about headaches caused by food and drink.
3. Clear the air. Literally.If you do have a cat or dog whose fur (or other allergens found in pet saliva or skin dander) aggravates your symptoms, try using a simple air purifier to rid the air of particles that you might otherwise breathe in. These gizmos are low-priced, and you only need to replace the carbon filter every couple of months to keep the air clean. (When you change filters you’ll see all the collected dust that you would have otherwise inhaled.) You will need one in each room. Using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter can help remove allergens from furniture and carpets. With vacuums, invest in a high-quality machine because the better made the product is, the less dust is let out of the machine as it’s sucked in. Regular pet baths can also control dander on fur. Of course, your cat may not be thrilled by the idea. In that case, you can wet down a washcloth with very warm, even hot, water, and rub it over Kitty. As long as it’s not dripping, he or she shouldn’t notice the wetness because they’ll love the heat. You can also try a product such as Allerpet for dogs and cats, or DeMite for dust mites, to reduce allergens http://www.demite.com. If symptoms don’t subside, you can consider closing off the bedroom to your pet. Reducing your exposure to potential pet allergens for 10 or so hours at night may be enough to make your symptoms manageable.
4. Change the sheets.Make sure you change your bed linens regularly and wash them in super-hot water when you do. And regularly wash curtains, throw pillows and vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust mites on furniture and fabric can cause shortness of breath when inhaled.
5. Shut the windows.
by Martica Heaner, PhD, MA, MEd for MSN Health
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