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Allergists Know They Need to Be 'Practical' About Pets
Telling a patient with asthma to get rid of her cat will often not work. "People will get rid of their allergist much faster than they'll get rid of their pet," says one allergist.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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One campaign promise that President Obama was sure to keep was the one he made to his daughters – after the 2008 election, they'd adopt a family dog. But when it came down to actually finding that dog, there was a problem. Malia was allergic. One in five Americans suffer from allergies, many of them pet-related. And while the Obama's ended up with a hypoallergenic Portuguese Water Dog named Bo, not everyone makes the same decision.
Christina Fenn's situation is more typical than you'd think: "I totally disregarded my allergies when I was getting the cat. I do love animals and I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, so yeah, I didn't think twice about it."
Fenn is not just allergic, she suffers from allergic asthma which means her pet allergies can affect her breathing, "I would say I get a great night's sleep when I'm not sleeping in my house. I can't actually remember a day that I've gone without blowing my nose."
She's even had a couple of scary nights. "My eyes were watering, and then I started to realize that I couldn't breathe. I was actually getting scared that I might have to go to the ER."
Believe it or not, she lives with not just one cat, but two. She admits that her disregard for personal discomfort hasn't helped the situation. "My whole life I've been like this and I've dealt with it and I've just accepted it. I mean, I've gone up and I've rubbed my face into animals and I've pet them and just suffered the consequences later. I love animals, and it's just an unfortunate fact of life."
She vacuums and dusts more than most, but it's not enough. So after living like this for 30 years, she decided it was time to see an allergist. Dr. Marjorie Slankard of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center offers realistic advice for pet-lovers like Fenn. "Early in my career in allergy one of my mentors explained to me that a patient will get rid of their allergist much faster than they'll get rid of their pets," said Dr. Slankard. "So we try to be practical about it." Dr. Slankard recommends that patients modify their exposure – for example, if they're clearly allergic, it's best that the animals are never in the bedroom and certainly not on the bed.
She also recommends wiping down the animals at least once a week, washing their hands after they pet their animal, as well as taking a shower and changing ones clothes before bed. And while Fenn follows many of these suggestions, she still has some breathing problems. The good news is that she knows why – Dr. Slankard says that often people don't even realize they suffer from allergic asthma. "They know they have some kind of uncomfortable symptoms," she said. While these symptoms can vary from patient to patient, they commonly include shortness of breath, coughing excessively, wheezing, and sometimes an audible whistling sound when they breathe out.
If you have pets and have experienced some of these symptoms, you should consult with an allergist to make sure you're receiving proper treatment.
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