Suffering from an allergy is annoying enough, but perhaps the most frustrating hiccup when you're also looking for love is when it's the pet-induced variety, because it can limit potential partners if they already have a dog or cat — or yours if you meet a guy that sounds fab ... and find out he's allergic to animals shortly thereafter. Are these relationships automatically doomed?! Unleashed spoke to an internal medicine physician, Dr. Matthew Mintz, FACP, to get the lowdown on what you can do if you find yourself in this awkward situation.
According to Dr. Mintz, “there are many ways to mitigate allergies.” He explained that if it is an “environmental allergy,” then changing the exposure (i.e. getting rid of the source) is the best option. But swapping out down comforters or fresh flowers for artificial alternatives is an entirely different thing than expecting someone to give up a pet.
So, in situations that involve beloved animals, the more practical option is “limiting the exposure.” Dr. Mintz explained that "limiting the pet to one area of the house and not having the allergic partner exposed to that area" is a helpful compromise. He advises that a good room to keep off limits for the pet is the bedroom, since we spend so many hours of the day sleeping.
In addition to minimizing exposure, Dr. Mintz advised that the allergic partner take allergy medications. This can be super helpful solution, especially if “taken in advance of being in the house,” which can help minimize symptoms once you are there. Allergy pills such as antihistamines (Claritin, Allegra) and inhaled nasal steroids (Flonase, Nasacort) “can help with all allergy symptoms, including pet allergy,” and they don’t cause sleepiness like the older allergy medications did. If allergy meds are not doing enough, the partner can always try allergy shots or immunotherapy, which can alleviate symptoms as well but take longer and are more expensive.
There are also commercial washes/products available to help reduce pet-related allergens; however, Dr. Mintz said that none have been proven to be very effective. Dr. Mintz explained that when patients are allergic to pets, the allegoric substance is actually the pet’s dander. “Dander is a combination of fur and dead skin cells that are not only on the animal, but all over the house.” They tend to stick to cloth and carpets, so a good idea to minimize dander exposure is to keep pets off the couch and carpet and cleaning the pet and the home regularly. Fortunately, there are some breeds of dogs and cats have little or no dander (often called hypoallergenic).
Simon E. of FL told us that he was allergic to his partner’s rescue cat when they first started dating. He didn't want that to hinder his new relationship because he really liked her, so he never mentioned that he was allergic. He said he knew “she would probably choose the cat” over him at that point, so he popped an allergy pill before he went over and toughed it out. Eventually, they moved in together, and he said at some point, he pretty much became immune to the cat. Good thing his initial allergy wasn't a total deal breaker because they are now married with a baby (and still have that cat)!
Dr. Minz confirmed that becoming immune to a pet you were previously allergic to is possible, if the allergy wasn't too severe. According to Dr. Mintz, the way immunotherapy (allergy shots) work is by giving “tiny exposures of the thing you are allergic to, which builds up other parts of your immune system.” Doing so prevents the allergic parts of your immune system from becoming “triggered.” Therefore, when someone is allergic to a cat or a dog, having small, regular, exposures to that pet may eventually lead to someone becoming tolerant. There may also be “cross-reactivity,” meaning that tolerance builds to all dogs or cats, and not just the type the person was exposed to.
So don’t swipe left just yet if you see a pet you are allergic to in a profile picture (or ghost someone who you learned has a pet) — there is hope for love without sneezing!
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