About 62% of U.S. households have pets, and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs.1 According to the American Lung Association, in the United States, 27% of houses have pet cats and 32 % have pet dogs.2 However, around twice as many people experience allergies to cats as compared to dogs.2
Many people are fond of having pets but those with allergies and asthma can have trouble keeping pets. Even simple things like dust, molds, pollen can trigger asthma in some people. Can pet dander act as a trigger for asthma? Let us look at the effects of pet dander on asthma.
Effects Of Pet Dander On Asthma
Pet allergy is a common condition, caused by an allergic reaction to the proteins present in animal skin, saliva, or urine. This is commonly presented by signs like sneezing, runny nose, while some people may even have asthma symptoms like wheezing and difficulty in breathing.3
People having allergies to pets may show such symptoms. Also, the possibility that it can trigger asthma symptoms, makes it clear that there are some negative effects of pet dander on asthma. Pet dander not necessarily affects everyone or show symptoms in every person having asthma. Also, it can affect people in varying ways. While we are aware of other triggers, animal or pet dander is known as one of the triggers and risk factors of asthma exacerbation.
Pet dander is commonly noticed with animals that are furry, have bushy hair or feathered ones. The shedding of these animals includes hair, flakes from the skin, saliva, and other droppings. These substances contain protein, to which other people get exposed to by direct contact or indirectly by contaminated surfaces. In some sensitive people, those having allergic rhinitis or asthma may experience a reaction to these proteins. Hence, hair and other substances included in pet dander can act as a trigger and in response to the exposure, an allergic reaction sets in.
The effects of pet dander on asthma are clear. The complaints of sneezing, coughing, irritation, and exacerbation of asthma symptoms like wheezing and difficulty in breathing is a result of this. Similarly, it can also cause an increase in symptoms of skin allergy like itching, red patches, and skin hives. This explains that pet dander can act as allergens and trigger various problems.
It is noticed that the effects of pet dander on asthma can be variable, depending on the exposure to animals. Some studies report that intermittent fetal and early-life exposure to farm animals increases the risk of allergic asthma in urban children visiting farms.4
A study report also reports that early-life exposure to cats increases the risk of allergic asthma while exposure to dogs seems to be protective.4 Another study presents a finding that exposure to Fel d1 in a home with a cat is far higher than the levels necessary to induce an allergic response with IgE antibody.5
While there are mixed views derived from various studies, the effects of pet dander on asthma cannot be undermined. Now, whether a person develops tolerance with repeated exposure or experiences worsening of the condition can vary from person to person. It also needs more research. Hence, medical evaluation, history of symptoms, and necessary investigations play an important role in diagnosis and proper treatment.
Understanding The Effects Of Pet Dander On Asthma
Let us understand the effects of pet dander on asthma. Animal dander acts as an allergen as it is treated as a foreign substance by people who do not tolerate it. Your otherwise healthy immune system protects you from germs and invaders due to your strong antibodies, made up of proteins. However, for people with asthma, animal dander is perceived as a foreign substance that is attacking the immune system. An allergic response is triggered, which results in an inflammatory process in the nasal passages and the lungs. This causes running nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Exposure to such allergens, like getting exposed to animal dander can trigger such inflammation resulting in worsening of asthma symptoms. People with asthma can have increased episodes of bronchoconstriction and bronchospasm due to triggers like pet dander. This is the commonest effect of pet dander on asthma that results in airway spasm or narrowing, which produces asthma symptoms.
Pet dander can particularly cause more problems because it is very small in size and can remain in the air for a longer period. It can hence easily move with slightest air circulation and can also get stuck on clothes, upholstery, and furniture with fabric.
It is believed that pet dander can cause chronic inflammation and people with asthma and pet allergy can have difficulty in managing the symptoms. Considering the effects of pet dander on asthma, people with asthma need to have proper evaluation done and an appropriate treatment plan.
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