After years of keeping my allergies under control, last year they seemed to return with a vengeance. I had a constant running nose, itchy eyes, and a loud and uncomfortable dry cough. I got some new prescriptions from my PCP, including an inhaler, which I’d never used before, and was able to ride it out through the season.
A couple months ago, I found an allergist to re-test my allergies, since it had been many years, and I know that allergies change over time. I got both a blood test and had allergens applied to my forearms for 20 minutes to see if there was a reaction.
The results were mostly as expected. A variety of moderate to high results for various trees: silver birch, maple, oak, elm, sycamore, and white ash, among others. What wasn’t as expected for me, as a dog owner, was the highest reading: the “very high” positive test result was for dog dander and something called “can f 5.”
“In dogs, there are seven different ‘component’ allergens that have been identified, can f1 through 7,” explains allergist Martin Smith, MD, a double board certified allergist and immunologist who specializes in skin conditions and is the founder of Untoxicated, a sensitive skincare brand free of 128 of the most common skin allergens.
“Can f 5 is a prostate-derived molecule, and is only produced by male dogs, and more so in unneutered male dogs,” he says.
Yes, I am allergic to my dog. My dog is neutered! Unfortunately, Dr. Smith points out he can still produce lower levels of can f 5, “so you could still experience allergic symptoms.”
What’s more, my dog is also a hypoallergenic breed (a goldendoodle), or so I thought.
“According to multiple studies, some breeds might cause less symptoms but there is no evidence that a breed is truly hypoallergenic,” says Aniruddha Gollapalli, MD, a Memorial Hermann Medical Group family medicine physician. “There was a study performed in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy that found that dogs labeled as hypoallergenic did not have a significant decrease in the levels of known dog allergens.”
That means that having a dog labeled “hypoallergenic” does not necessarily mean you won’t be allergic to that dog. Mind. Blown.
“There are several breeds that are promoted as being hypoallergenic, as they shed less,” says Dr. Smith. “Though dog hair or fur does contain some allergenic proteins, the majority of allergens come from the dogs’ skin or dander (scales from your pets’ skin) and also from your dogs’ saliva and urine, thus, shedding has little to do with allergenicity.”
So, if you got a pet, and later started experiencing allergy symptoms, what should you do?
Just because you weren’t allergic to cats or dogs as a kid doesn’t mean you aren’t allergic now. “Allergies can develop anytime in adulthood,” says Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, MD, an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. Her recommendation? You should get tested every two to three years if new symptoms develop.
If you do test positive, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your furry family member. But you will probably want to take some steps to ease your symptoms.
1. Start with OTC remedies
First, think if your allergies are really starting to affect your daily life. Are you sneezing, itching, and/or congested? Head to the drugstore for some OTC remedies. “I recommend to see your primary care doctor or allergist if symptoms are [resistant] to treatments such as oral antihistamines (Zyrtec, Claritin, etc) or nasal corticosteroids (Flonase, Nasonex, etc), which have been shown to be effective,” says Dr. Gollapalli.
Personally, I rotate taking antihistamines Zyrtec, Claritin, and Zyzal—it’s not an exact science, I usually just buy what is on sale, since all of them seem to work for me, personally. I also use Flonase nasal spray, a prescription inhaler, and spoil myself with nice tissues and hand soap since I’m always blowing my nose. I like the Enrich Lotion Tissues that contain skincare like coconut oil, hyaluronic acid, and squalane, as well as the chic and luxe Cipres Mint Hand Wash from Courtney Cox’s brand Homecourt.
I’m also getting allergy shots again to build up my tolerance to my main concerns—pets and trees.
2. Install an air purifier at home
Both cat and dog dander are airborne, according to Dr. Eghrari-Sabet. That’s why allergists recommend getting a HEPA air filter. “Air purifiers are most effective when the room that they are located in has minimal carpeting and soft furnishings, which serve as reservoirs for pet allergens,” says Dr. Smith.
I use a Rabbit Air HEPA Purifier—I have their “Artists Series” cover which features Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, so it looks like a painting. It’s also extremely quiet.
3. Clean your home and your pet regularly
“Frequent vacuuming, once to twice a week, especially with a HEPA filter–equipped vacuum, is recommended,” says Dr. Smith. But it’s not just your home you should clean: “Studies have shown washing your dog or cat does help reduce the allergen level,” he adds. Research suggests that bathing your pup twice a week gives the best results, Dr. Smith says, yet it may not be all that useful for cats, unfortunately, since in felines, “allergen levels return to pre-bath levels in one to two days.”
In my own home, I vacuum frequently, bathe my dog often, and always wipe his paws when he comes inside from a walk. I also use a FurZapper Laundry Tool to remove hair and dander from our clothes and Bounce Pet Hair & Lint Guard dryer sheets, especially when I wash my dog’s bedding and toys.
4. Keep some distance
Finally, it’s probably a good idea to cool it on the cuddles, at least until you can either get a definitive allergy test or start immunotherapy injections. “This is a difficult recommendation to follow, but try to avoid kissing, hugging, or petting your pet—and if you do, wash your hands immediately with soap and water,” says Dr. Smith.
My dog does sleep in my bedroom, but not in my bed. Like most things in life, managing my symptoms (since getting rid of my beloved pet is not an option) comes down to finding a livable balance for all of us in my home.