SUNDAY, Nov. 6, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- By taking steps to reduce pet allergens in their homes, pet owners can reduce the spread of pet allergens to people who may be allergic, experts say.
Pet allergens are found in more than 90 percent of U.S. homes, even though only 52 percent have a pet, said Dr. Dana Wallace, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, in a college news release.
That can pose a problem for pet-allergic children at schools, when classmates introduce allergens via their clothes and backpacks.
"Studies show that when asthmatic children who are allergic to cats attend classes with many cat owners, they have increased asthma symptoms," Wallace said. "We usually see a spike in asthma episodes at the beginning of the school year when students are reintroduced to the allergen after being away from it over the summer."
There are a number of steps pet owners can take to limit the amount of pet dander in their homes, noted Wallace, including:
- Limit where the animal can roam, particularly the bedroom, to establish an "allergy free zone."
- Wash clothing and bedding with bleach.
- Cover mattresses and pillows with tightly woven microfiber fabric.
- Use room air cleaners and vacuums with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.
- Use central heat and air; a MERV 12 filter is also recommended. (MERV is a rating system that signifies the size of particles a filter can capture)
- Opt for wood or tile floor over carpeting.
- Replace fabric upholstery with leather furniture.
- Give pets regular baths.
These steps can also help pet owners who find out they're allergic to their own dog or cat, Wallace said. Pet owners can also consider immunotherapy, or allergy shots, advised Wallace.
Immunotherapy, she explained, exposes people to increasing amounts of an allergen to build up their immune system's tolerance for the substance. Although mild symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter drugs or nasal sprays, immunotherapy is typically most effective since it treats the condition rather than just the symptoms.
Although changes to people's surroundings and immunology can help control pet allergies, in extreme cases, the animal may need to be removed from the home.
"When the allergy is so severe that the individual is having increased asthma attacks or hospitalizations, the health of the person needs to be the top priority in making decisions about the family pet," she cautioned.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on pet and other indoor allergies.