DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Our toddler has shown signs that she might be allergic toour dog. We have had our dog for eight years, and the dog seems to be fond ofour daughter. Do you have any tips for how we can safely keep our dog withoutsacrificing our child’s health?

ANSWER: Pets are an important part of many families. In most cases, you shouldbe able to keep your dog while keeping your daughter safe.

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance. Petallergies often are triggered by exposure to pet urine or saliva. Theseallergies also can be triggered by dander, the dead flakes of skin that ananimal sheds. Dander is a particular problem because it is small and canremain airborne for long periods of time with even the slightest bit of aircirculation. Dander collects easily in upholstered furniture and sticks toclothing.

For people with pet allergies, exposure to these allergens can lead to varioussymptoms. The most common symptoms include sneezing; runny nose; itchy, red orwatery eyes; nasal congestion; and postnasal drip. In a child, you may seefrequent rubbing of the nose. For those with a history of asthma, symptomsalso may include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath.In some people, skin symptoms may occur in the form of itchy skin, hives oreczema.

To reduce the effects of a pet allergy, an important first step for yourdaughter is to encourage hand-washing after petting the dog to minimizeallergen exposure to the eyes or nose. Another key component is to keep atleast one place in your home dander-free. It may be best to keep the dog outof your daughter’s bedroom since it is likely that she spends at least eighthours of each day there.

In addition to implementing environmental changes, you also can trynonprescription remedies. Several over-the-counter medications, such asantihistamines and nasal corticosteroids, may relieve allergy symptoms. Forexample, oral antihistamines ease itching, sneezing and runny nose by reducingthe production of histamine, the primary mediator in an allergic reaction.Nasal corticosteroid sprays reduce nasal swelling, sneezing and congestion.For more persistent symptoms, prescription medications, such as montelukast,or Singulair, also may help.

I would encourage you to speak to your pediatrician about any specificmedications or other efforts that may be valuable, given your personal familysituation. If your daughter’s symptoms worsen, you will want to visit with anallergist to discuss whether allergy testing and shots are needed.

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that involves receiving allergens insmall incremental doses. Shots are initially given weekly, and theconcentration of allergen is gradually increased to a maintenance dose overthree to six months. The maintenance shot is then given monthly for three tofive years. Allergy shots reduce symptoms by desensitizing the body’s immunesystem to the allergens to which one is reactive.

A combination of allergy medication and environmental changes often can helpcontrol pet allergies, making it unnecessary to remove a family pet from thehome. In almost all cases, the physical and emotional benefits pets can offerchildren far outweigh the issues allergies might cause.

Source: By Arveen Bhasin, M.D., Tribune Content Agency

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