Can you have a pet dog if you have asthma and allergies?

While about 10 percent of the population is allergic to animals, among asthmatics, 20 to 30 percent of people are allergic to pets. Allergies are misguided reactions of the immune system to certain substances. Although allergens are basically harmless, people with pet allergies end up suffering from all kinds of cold-like symptoms. Their bodies react to the allergen by creating immunoglobulin E, which then tells mast cells and basophils to send out chemicals to attack the unwanted substance. When allergies are exacerbated by asthma, the results can be dangerous.

Most people with dog allergies react to saliva or animal dander, which are skin flakes that dogs shed. Some people are also sensitive to dog urine and some are sensitive to hair. Most doctors recommend that people with pet allergies — and especially those with asthma and allergies — avoid contact with allergens as much as possible. Pets without fur, such as fish or reptiles, are more likely to be allergen-free. Short-haired animals can be just as allergic as long-haired ones, as the problem is usually saliva or dander and not actual fur. Even “hypoallergenic” dogs are not truly allergen-free.

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If people with allergies and asthma feel that they absolutely must have a pet dog, they need to take precautions to limit the allergens they are exposed to. Dogs should be confined to certain areas of the house — not the bedroom. Anything that can collect allergens, such as curtains, carpet, or upholstery, should be taken out of the house. A good HEPA air filter is also recommended. Allergy shots are another possibility, but they may not be as effective as some people with asthma would like. Despite environmental improvements and medications for dog allergies, it is still safe for someone with asthma and allergies to skip pet dogs.

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