There’s no place like home for the holidays. Unless you’re allergic to your dad’s Burmese cat. In that case, there’s no place like sitting in your car while waiting for the sneezing to stop.
About 3 in 10 people with allergies are allergic to pets, turning holidays to hardships for those visiting friends or family with pets. And putting Fido in another room rarely works. “Most people with a pet allergy need over-the-counter medication,” says Dr. John Pauls, a board-certified allergy and immunology doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy. “And they need to get their allergy under control long before they travel.”
Why, oh, why am I itchy?
Pet allergies are genetic, so there’s a good chance you’re not the only family member sniffling over your mashed potatoes. These allergies are triggered by pet dander — tiny, even microscopic, flecks of skin shed by animals with fur or feathers. So even if you’re not in direct contact with the pet himself, you could react to the dander around the house.
There are generally three types of pet allergies (and sorry cat lovers, but felines tend to spark a more dramatic reaction than dogs do). These allergy types are:
- Rhinitis: Itchy, stuffy or runny nose, and sneezing
- Conjunctivitis: Itchy, red and watery eyes
- Asthma: Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing or chest tightness
It’s easy to tell the difference between a pet allergy and the common cold, as cold symptoms usually include a sore throat, muscle ache and lethargy. Plus, the onset of an allergic reaction to a pet is immediate, so you’ll typically start feeling symptoms as soon as you’re exposed.
Can I fix this?
The worst time to treat a pet allergy is when it hits you. The best time? Before you’re exposed. Dr. Pauls suggests taking the following steps before you arrive at your destination:
- Rhinitis: Start with an over-the-counter intranasal corticosteroid spray, three to four weeks before you are exposed to the pet. Then follow the instructions on the package for daily dosage while you’re in contact with the pet. In addition, take a daily, oral, non-sedating antihistamine (according to package instructions) three days before your arrival and continue it throughout your visit.
- Conjunctivitis: Use over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops (according to package instructions) starting the day before exposure.
- Asthma: Ask your doctor for tips on getting your allergic asthma under control prior to your visit. In rare cases, patients can have life-threatening attacks, so it’s best to have your doctor advise you.
Traveling for the holidays shouldn’t be a traumatic experience. If you suffer from pet allergies, take the proper steps to ease your own pain. “I’m a pet lover,” says Dr. Pauls, “and I know how important it is for pets to be a part of the holiday experience. Be prepared, and don’t let your allergy get the best of you.”