The start of Summer means shorts, BBQ and bikini weather is fast approaching and the days of lounging around in the sun with a cool, refreshing drink are no longer the stuff of dreams.
However, for any hay fever sufferers, it also comes with doses of sneezing, watery eyes and not being able to breathe correctly.
Advice is that you should always keep windows closed, wash clothes as soon as you get home and regularly vacuum and disinfect to keep pollen particles out of your home. But if you have pets who love rolling in the grass, exploring trees or running through flower fields, you may have thought…
Is my beloved pet making my hay fever worse?
While there have long been fears that animals can heighten or intensify pollen allergies, there’s no reason to go and plan yourself a teary goodbye at the nearest cats and dogs shelter just yet.
To find out the truth, we’ve investigated just what kind of role pets play in worsening hay fever, so we can squash the rumours and bring out the cold, hard facts.
One reason you might be experiencing slightly more irritating hay fever symptoms than usual, especially in terms of itchy skin, is due to animal dander.
Animal dander refers to the microscopic, shed skin cells of your pet. Although impossible to see, they’re definitely still here, there and everywhere around your home!
Cat dander is meant to be particularly potent. So if you’re a cat owner suffering from more intense hay fever rashes than usual, your whiskered friend may, unfortunately, be an exacerbation.
But wait – does that mean I also have a pet allergy? Well, not necessarily.
Even if you don’t have an allergy to animals, there is a reason why you may suddenly be having an extra reaction to dander.
When a hay fever sufferer’s immune system comes into contact with pollen, their body mistakes it as a dangerous substance and so releases the chemical histamine to try and fight it.
Hence why most allergy sufferers take antihistamines, which stop your body from releasing the chemical. Therefore it prevents symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes, which are all your body’s attempt at clearing pollen out of your system.
One way in which histamines work is to reject foreign objects on the skin, making it feel more sensitive than usual. When a foreign body such as pollen then touches your skin it can come out in red, itchy patches or larger rash-like reactions.
Naturally, when things like toiletries and soaps come in contact with such rashes, they can often make them more irritated. The same is the case for animal dander.
Except you of course will be completely unaware of ever coming into contact with dander since you can’t see it.
This means you may notice rashes becoming more inflamed or larger after interacting with your pets, and so in this case, pets do make hay fever symptoms worse.
Another reason for your worsening symptoms could in fact be that your pet is living a double life, a secret agent bringing the enemy into your own home.
Think about it – your pet is absolutely covered in hair, essentially making them a kind of living feather duster for your home. They pick up plenty of dirt, dust and debris into their fur.
Okay… so maybe you don’t want to think about that, but remember our own human skin can be just as filthy and that the kind of debris we’re talking about is invisible to the naked eye!
Just like with dust spores, dogs, cats and rabbits can easily collect high stores of pollen in their fur, especially if they’re often outside and rolling around in the grass!
After a fun day in the garden, your pets can then return to your home and unknowingly transfer this pollen all over your house and more importantly all over you after a quick, innocuous cuddle!
So you can shut as many windows as you like to protect yourself, but if your pet is marauding around free as a bird, your house is still likely going to become a hay fever hotspot with all the pollen your pet brings in!
Pet allergies and hay fever combined
Unfortunately for those of you who are trying to fight off both an allergy towards your own pet and a dreaded bout of hay fever… it’s not good news.
But did you expect anything less? You’re already tempting fate by owning an animal you’re allergic to!
A study in 2010 from Queen’s University found that ragweed allergies (a form of hay fever) actually intensify or worsen more quickly if the sufferer also has allergies to cats or dogs.
Testing 123 patients with hay fever in a controlled ragweed exposing environment, the study found that participants who also had a cat, dog or dust allergy reported their symptoms differently to those who only suffered from pollen allergies.
“The study results helped us develop a theory of ‘pre-priming’,” says Dr Ellis, an assistant professor in the departments of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Queen’s.
“If you have ongoing symptoms from perennial allergies, as soon as you add another allergen into the mix your symptoms develop much faster, and you may have a harder time dealing with it than others.”
The slightly better news is that once subjects with only ragweed allergies caught up and were suffering symptoms in full swing, there didn’t seem to be any major difference, and those with pet allergies certainly didn’t suffer any worse.
However, they definitely started suffering more quickly, which means reacting to and preventing your symptoms from arising is potentially a lot more difficult if you suffer from pet allergies!
As for advice on how to deal with this, Dr Ellis genuinely suggests finding an alternative home for your pet as a precaution, or at the very least minimize your exposure to them and other animals.
She states that this is particularly important for those who also suffer from asthma, especially child asthmatics. This is because the added pressure of ongoing allergic inflammation in their already struggling lungs can actually cause irreversible damage.
However, is it really feasible for you to foster out your dog or cat a few times a year just to prevent hay fever?
To discover some much more manageable methods for subduing hay fever and pet allergy symptoms, read our handy tips and tricks guide below…
How to prevent pets making hayfever symptoms worse
You may not want to hear this but the obvious remedy to end your exacerbated hay fever suffering is to get rid of your pet.
But of course, nobody wants to do that, and we naturally wouldn’t advise it either.
Because what’s the point of having a few sniffle free summers when the sacrifice is literally YEARS of loyalty? It’s a price we’re all willing to pay.
However, hay fever is a terribly irritating issue. Gritting your teeth and bearing it is hardly a viable option if you want a pleasant and enjoyable summer.
To keep symptoms at bay and prevent your pets from making life a misery, here are some handy tips to help keep a hay-fever free home:
Creating pet-free zones
One of the smartest things you can do for yourself if a pet is worsening hay fever symptoms is to create some no-go areas in your house.
Naturally, you’re not looking to imprison your pet as you’ll still want to interact with it. However, it can be wise to create yourself a little safe haven if things are getting too much.
Allergy sufferers most commonly opt to make their bedroom a pet-free zone rather than a pet paradise.
This will help you sleep better, as any pollen trapped in your animal’s fur cannot reach you. You will have likely washed your face or showered before bed meaning any pollen trapped on your skin from during the day has gone.
Groom your pet more often
If you don’t have existing pet allergies but find that a cuddle with your pup or kitty brings you out in sneezes in the summer, it’s likely your little furball is harbouring some serious pollen reserves in its hair!
The simplest way to prevent this from happening is to groom them more regularly. This is especially relevant after a long trip outside or rolling in the grass.
A damp cloth or pet cleaning wipe tends to be the best option for collecting pollen. It’s a wise idea to do your grooming before your pet comes into the house, as otherwise, you may merely release the spores into your home, making the issue worse.
For dog owners, in particular, walking may be what’s exacerbating your hay fever issue, as opposed to the animal.
More frequent walking sessions and going out at certain times of the day will increase you and your dog’s interaction with the high pollen count.
Pollen counts increase exponentially at midday. Although going for walkies when the sun is shining seems like the nicest thing to do, it’s going to play havoc with your hay fever.
General advice is to walk your dog very early in the morning or later in the evening. This is when pollen counts have severely dropped. These schedules tend to be better for those with 9-5 working hours anyway!
Change up your cleaning methods!
Nobody particularly enjoys cleaning. But if you think you can get away with some once a season spring cleaning when you’ve got hay fever – think again!
It’s not just animal dander that worsens hay fever symptoms. Dust spores can have similar consequences and your house is no fortress. A couple of open windows is all it takes for some unhealthy helpings of pollen to make their way into your home.
By increasing your cleaning schedule to a couple of times a week, keeping on top of dust and dander should help hayfever symptoms stay at bay. Remember to use a pet-safe disinfectant.
It’s also wise to start cleaning surfaces with a damp cloth rather than a classic polish and duster during high pollen months. This will cause pollen to stick to the cloth as opposed to just lifting it into the air and spreading it around!