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Sharp Health News

Can allergy shots help you live with a pet allergy?

Nov. 7, 2018

Can allergy shots help you live with a pet allergy?

Cats and dogs are adorable companions, but if you have a pet allergy, they can be a constant source of sneezing and wheezing.

Dr. Ashika Odhav, an allergist and immunologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says proper pet hygiene is the first line of defense in managing symptoms.

“I would recommend performing environmental precaution measures at home, such as cutting the pet hair short, giving the pet weekly baths and washing the carpet once a week to remove the dander,” she says. "An allergic individual should not sleep with their pet and should try to keep it out of their bedroom.”

For those who crave the love of a four-legged pal without the aggravating symptoms, these 10 tips for living with a pet allergy can help.

If you follow these guidelines and still suffer, allergy shots — also known as allergen immunotherapy — can decrease sensitivity to allergens and can often lead to lasting relief of symptoms.

How do allergy shots work?
“Think of it like a vaccine,” says Dr. Odhav. “Your body responds to injected amounts of the allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to the allergen.”

There are two phases: a buildup phase and a maintenance phase. In the buildup phase, the patient receives injections once or twice a week, while the amount of allergen injected is gradually increased. The maintenance phase starts when the effective dose level is reached. During this phase, the time between treatments is more spread out than in the previous phase, ranging from two to four weeks.

Do they work?
The short answer is yes, but effectiveness depends on length of treatment and the dose of the allergen you receive.

“Some people experience lasting relief from their allergy symptoms, while others may relapse after discontinuing the allergy shots,” Dr. Odhav says. “If you have not seen improvement after a year of maintenance therapy, your allergist will work with you to discuss treatment options.”

How long does it take before symptoms decrease?
Everyone responds to allergy shots differently, so the time it takes for the treatment to work fluctuates.

“There may be a decrease of symptoms during the buildup phase, but it can take as long as 12 months on the maintenance therapy to notice an improvement,” says Dr. Odhav.

While that may not be good news for those who currently live with a pet, it can help guide the process for those planning to adopt a pet in the future. If allergy shots are successful, treatment is generally continued for three to five years.

Does the effectiveness of the shots depend on the severity of the allergy?
No, allergy shots will help reduce symptoms no matter the level of severity. However, Dr. Odhav says there may be decreased responsiveness to the shots if there are high levels of the allergen in the environment while undergoing treatment. To increase the chances of the shots working, try to avoid situations with high levels of exposure to allergens. In this case, that means limiting exposure to pets.

If you’ve wanted a pet of your own or just want to enjoy being around your friends’ and family’s pets without having an allergic reaction, there’s hope. If you think allergy shots may be right for you, talk with your primary care doctor.

In the meantime, queue up those cute puppy and kitten videos.

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