If you have pet allergies, you know how bad the sneezing, itching and watery eyes can get. You’ve lived through fits of coughing, scratching and feeling like the pain will never end.
It’s hard, because avoiding pets in life can be tough, if not impossible:
- Maybe you’re allergic to your own pet but can’t fathom the thought of giving them up.
- Maybe a pet came as a package deal with your significant other, and you know how strong their bond is.
Regardless of why you’re still spending time around pets despite your allergies, you’ve surely wondered how bad the allergies can get. It sometimes feels like you can barely breathe when you’re around them — like your airway is being restricted.
So is it possible to die from pet allergies?
Can Being Allergic to Pets Can Kill You?
In short, yes. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction, usually caused by things like insect stings or nuts.
When someone comes into contact with an allergen capable of causing anaphylaxis, they might experience symptoms like:
- Mental confusion
- Throat swelling
- Weakness or dizziness
- Blue skin
- Rapid or abnormal heart rate
- Facial swelling
- Low blood pressure
“Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that occurs within minutes of exposure,” according to MedlinePlus. “Immediate medical attention is needed for this condition. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can get worse very quickly and lead to death within 15 minutes.”2
Fortunately, most pet allergies aren’t typically severe enough to cause reactions like those. They generally come in the form of itchy and watery eyes. In fact, around 30% of those of us with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.3
However, having those worse reactions is not unheard of.
Often, doctors can’t narrow down what allergen might have caused anaphylaxis in someone, especially if the patient has never experienced it before.
They might advise sufferers to stay away from several allergens that could have triggered the reaction, just to be safe.
Examples of life-threatening allergic reactions to pets:
- The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology noted a possible case of anaphylaxis in a 3-year-old boy after he was licked by his dog. Research suggested proteins in the dog’s saliva could have triggered this severe allergic reaction to the dog.4
- In another instance, Jill Ferguson, founder and CEO of Women’s Wellness Weekends, experienced pet allergies so extreme that she was forced to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with her everywhere. Ferguson married into a family with a cat she loves — but who, even so, put Ferguson in a dangerous situation. According to her, if the cat even touched her, she couldn’t breathe and was at risk of anaphylaxis. “We have learned to usually safely coexist,” she told website xoJane in 2016.5
In other cases of severe pet allergies, some people also suffer from asthma attacks.
Allergens that cause moderate reactions, like runny noses, are the same ones that can cause breathing problems, too. If someone who’s touching or playing with a cat continues to do so, even after feeling their asthma kick in, they could potentially be in a deadly situation.
With a restricted airway, if a person stays in contact with a cat, they could die. Of course, in allergy cases this severe, most people know not to stay near pets for too long. The risk, however, is still prevalent.
“If your signs and symptoms are severe — with nasal passages feeling completely blocked and difficulty sleeping or wheezing — call your doctor,” advises the Mayo Clinic, which adds: “Seek emergency care if wheezing or shortness of breath rapidly worsens or if you are short of breath with minimal activity.”6
Pet Allergies? Here’s How to Prepare.
If you suffer from pet allergies, the best thing to do is talk with your doctor.
Your doctor can prescribe a plan for moving forward, especially if you interact with animals regularly.
If your allergies are severe and your doctor thinks you could be at risk of anaphylaxis, the doctor might prescribe an EpiPen, or epinephrine auto-injector, that you’ll carry around wherever you go.
Don’t miss our related article “There’s a Pet on Your Flight, and You’re Allergic: What to Do.”
Check out these tips for those pet lovers who suffer from pet-related allergies:
Sometimes, even if you don’t live with or interact with pets regularly, you’ll still find yourself in their company — think planes, trains or other public spaces.
Again, talk with your doctor to find the best solution. Your doctor may prescribe certain allergy medicines to help relieve symptoms anytime you know there’s a chance you’ll be in contact with a pet.
If you live with a pet, on the other hand, there are certain precautions you can take to help avoid regular allergy flare-ups:
- Keep your bedroom pet-free and change the sheets regularly.
- Change your clothes before you get into bed, and make sure to keep clothes with pet dander in a separate laundry room.
- Try to have someone else do all the cleaning. “If that’s not possible, wear a dust mask that covers your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling heavy doses of allergens, says Shirlee Kalstone in her book Allergic to Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living With the Animals You Love.7
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Get your family on board, and make sure they follow the same rules.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Consider purchasing an ultra-high-quality air purifier, such as the revolutionary Molekule — which Petful publisher Dave Baker has hailed as “a miracle device” in his home. His wife suffers from cat allergies, and “the Molekule has improved the indoor air immeasurably — totally worth the investment,” he says. The Molekule’s advanced technology is able to destroy pollutants 1,000 times smaller than traditional HEPA filters.
“Most allergic people don’t have to give up their pets to gain significant symptom control,” says Robin Levy, MD, a board-certified allergist, writing in the foreword to Kalstone’s book.
“Simple, inexpensive lifestyle changes at home can yield surprising results in helping to minimize pet-related allergy symptoms,” Dr. Levy says.
Tips like those above could help ease your day-to-day allergy suffering — but remember, the best way to help prevent serious allergic reactions is to talk with your doctor.
“There are certainly cases in which an individual may suffer from potentially dangerous allergic reactions to pets,” Dr. Levy says. “Fortunately, this scenario represents but a small minority of allergic sufferers.”
- Khan, April and Winnie Yu. “Anaphylaxis.” Healthline. Jan. 13, 2016. https://www.healthline.com/health/anaphylaxis.
- Henochowicz, Stuart I., MD, FACP et al. “Allergic Reactions.” MedlinePlus. Feb. 27, 2018. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000005.htm.
- “Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. October 2015. https://www.aafa.org/pet-dog-cat-allergies/.
- Ledford, Dennis K., MD, FAAAAI. “Dog Anaphlaxis.” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Dec. 2, 2014. https://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/dog-anaphylaxis.
- Ferguson, Jill L. “I Love My Family’s Cat Even Though It Could Kill Me.” xoJane. Aug. 18, 2016. http://www.xojane.com/healthy/allergic-to-new-stepchilds-cat.
- “Pet Allergy.” Mayo Clinic. Nov. 17, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192.
- Kalstone, Shirlee. Allergic to Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living With the Animals You Love. Random House Publishing Group. 2008.
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