Is Your Pet Making Your Eczema Worse?
Do you start scratching after you’ve petted Fluffy? Perhaps you break into hives often when you're home? Well today I wanted to talk about how your pet can actually be triggering your eczema, and what you can do about it.
Animals can be one of the sweetest parts of our lives. Having a pet in the home is for many people the difference between a life of boredom and loneliness, or a life with happiness and comfort.
Pets are known to help reduce stress, keep people more active, and provide companionship like no other. The benefits of having an animal in the home are very advantageous for humans.
Many people grow up with a family pet to accompany children through their early years. Later on, pets are sought after to provide company and even more commonly now, to replace the presence of children. But for all the substance and energy they bring into the home, they can harbor something invisible which can make eczema symptoms worse, as well as asthma and allergies.
Many are unaware of this potential correlation, so continue living with heightened eczema unnecessarily.
How pets can trigger eczema
The eczema skin barrier is more ‘open’ than healthy skin and susceptible to absorbing any and all allergens, thus leading to an immune response and inflammation.
Animals innocently host a variation of concealed (potential) irritants, which when coming into contact with the open eczema skin, can lead to a negative and inflammatory reaction such as itching, redness, hives, and eczema.
To be clear, not every animal is going to trigger eczema or allergy symptoms, however the most common pets are unfortunately the most prone to triggering inflammation. These include:
The occurrence of allergies towards specific animals can differ, for example cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. For this reason, it is important to take note of how the body reacts during periods of exposure compared to times of isolation from the animal and its environment.
Testing this multiple times to ensure without a doubt that your pet is triggering your eczema is important before attempting a potentially long journey to finding a resolution..
Pet allergens and eczema
Most people are under the assumption that animal hair is the actual trigger for eczema and inflammation, hence the reason ‘hypo-allergenic’ pets are so in-vogue. In actual fact, these reactions are less to do with the hair itself, and more to do with the allergens that stick to the hair, which includes the following.
Dander is simply the natural shedding of skin cells from animals which happens in the same manner as human skin cells.
Dander is easily transported around the home as it is light-weight and can also attach to the animals hair which is lost when it moves about the home. It can even become airborne, leading to inhalation and potential inflammation within in the airways.
Powder dander which coats the feathers of particular birds can also trigger an allergic reaction, and due to the nature the birds movements, is easily driven into the air and thus, throughout the home.
Found in the saliva and urine of the animal, certain proteins become spread over the hair and skin of the animal, and are known to cause allergic reactions and eczema in humans. It is also easily transported with their dander (skin cells) into the air and around the home.
Sebaceous glands are located in the skin of an animal and are responsible for excreting an oily sebum to keep the skin hydrated and waterproofed. Humans produce their own sebum, however this lubricant from our pets conceals within it another potential eczema-trigger.
In cats, the sebaceous glands produce the most amount of allergen which is spread over its body during licking, and is quickly transported throughout their surrounding area. This includes attaching to dust particles and becoming airborne.
As you can see from this information, the majority of these allergens originate from the skin and fluids of the animal, and not actually the hair or fur itself. This means there is no truly hypoallergenic pet, however the less hair they shed, the less allergen is spread.
Solutions if you think your pet is causing your eczema
I am a huge proponent of animal welfare, and believe physical, social, and emotional neglect are not the answer and should never happen. All avenues should be explored before giving up your pet to another home.
So if you believe your pet is triggering you or a loved one’s eczema symptoms, then read on for some tips on helping manage your exposure, while keeping your beloved fluff-ball in your life.
Keep pets away from certain areas
Letting mittens clamber all over your bed or on your fabric couch is a one-way ticket to a scratch-party. Creating barricades to limit the places your pet can access will at least reduce the amount of allergens on the areas you use the most. While it is possible for airborne particles to settle in these spots, a reduction in exposure is a good first step.
It’s important to remember that when an animal is removed from an area or the entire home, it can take many months before the allergens have fully disappeared. This will also require a lot of cleaning with good/non-irritating products to help speed up the process.
By donning protective gloves of some kind, such as a rubber or nitrile (anything you won’t react to), you will be able to handle your pet without actually having to touch them directly.
Gloves help in instances such as petting, washing Fido, cleaning their bedding, or even play time. Toys are generally well coated with the animals saliva (a big carrier of allergens) so gloves will give you the chance to participate in frivolous play time while protecting your delicate skin.
Due to the fact that eczema skin has a weaker defense from environmental allergens; dust-mites and other irritants are a constant hazard which is why vacuuming should already be performed regularly.
Using a quality HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, such as this one, you can further reduce the amount of animal allergens on surfaces as well as reduce the amount of particles in the air due to the HEPA systems ability to catch the finest particles which would otherwise be recirculated back into the air by a standard vacuum.
De-fluff the house
As I’ve mentioned, the allergens from your pet are mostly produced from their skin and saliva. This is then spread to the area at large and because fabric is prone to being embedded; reducing the amount of ‘fluffy’ areas such as cushions or heavy fabric curtains can help reduce the amount of potential allergens you are exposed to.
With airborne particles working against you and your eczema, it can be helpful to run an air purifier with a HEPA filter, such as this one, to help control the amount of floating allergens in your environment.
Working in conjunction with a vacuum cleaner, an air purifier can run for many hours at a time and keep your air cleaner and free of eczema-irritating animal pollution which is especially helpful for owners of birds.
As their body fluids harbor some of the worst culprits for eczema irritation, keeping them away from your skin is important, so training your pets to do their business outside and to not lick you can be a big help.
Additionally, training your pets to avoid areas of excess fluff like rugs, carpet, and beds, will also help reduce the amount of potential allergen proliferation in your home.
Because of the way allergens can be stirred up, spread about the home and thrown into the air, it is necessary to keep animal areas, bedding, and the animals themselves clean.
This can be done by washing their bedding in hot water regularly, and cleaning your pets once a week just in cool or warm water alone or by using a gentle and natural animal shampoo. Using harsh or chemical shampoos can induce allergies in yourself and your pet which can encourage more shedding of dander and increased licking, thus increasing the amount of allergens in your environment.
For birds, it is important to ensure their cages are cleaned regularly and trays are emptied and cleaned daily as bird droppings are also known culprits of allergens.
While studies for immunotherapy desensitization in treating eczema are limited, there is evidence to suggest that in some cases, allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) can be helpful.
This method works by gradually introducing small amounts of the allergen into the body, whereby building up a tolerance when administered over a long period of time. It is not guaranteed to stop the eczema reactions, however for some people it may be worth a try.
Last resort, a new home for your pet
I understand that while steps can be made to clear your homes of animal allergens, nothing will work 100% while the pet still resides with you.
If all work-around attempts have been made and an adequate amount of time has passed to allow the allergens thorough removal from the home, and you are certain the animals presence is still triggering your eczema, then the only way to eliminate exposure entirely is by finding your pet another home.
Because animals bond to people and trust us with their lives, it is your responsibility if you make this choice to find the best home possible for your pet. A place where they will be very loved and cared for, and not forgotten when they are no longer 'new'.
Choose your pet carefully
If you have not yet made the leap to extending your family members with a furry friend, then research first into the right pet for your home. While hypo-allergenic pets are not genuinely hypo-allergenic, they are still better choices than ones which regularly shed hair.
For those who suffer from eczema, it is also a good idea to get tested first to see if there is a current underlying allergy to certain animals. That said, even without a detectable allergy, eczema symptoms may still occur and even worsen due to the overly porous nature of this skin.
On a slightly different note, while there is evidence to suggest that a child can actually build up a tolerance to their pet over time, much like the way immunotherapy works, this is not a given and on the contrary, exposure of this nature over a period of time could also lead to development of an allergy to that animal. The result is not easily predicted which is why abstaining from a pet in the first place can be the best line of defence.
If you are an animal lover who suffers from eczema, I feel your pain. The joy of having a pet can for some people be worth the pain of living with eczema, for others, it may go unrealized indefinitely.
With all the methods to help mitigate our eczema suffering brought on by our pets, there may be no way to totally eliminate this reaction entirely so it is up to you to find the balance you need to make you and your pet equally comfortable and happy.
Basically, if it has hair, feathers or fur, it has the potential to trigger an eczema-reaction and keep the skin red and itchy as long as the person is exposed. While there are measures to limit the amount of exposure to the sensitive eczema-skin, there is no way to eliminate this hazard 100% without complete abstinence.