Our pets are often our best friends – unless we are allergic to them. Approximately 62 percent of Americans have pets, and 15 to 30 percent of Americans suffer from pet allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. That’s a lot of red, itchy eyes!
Allergies occur when your immune system perceives something as harmful and overreacts, causing numerous symptoms. Pets carry many eye allergens, including dander (dead skin cells), urine, pollen and saliva. When exposed to these allergens, cells in the eyes release histamines and other chemicals to try to protect the eyes. This causes the blood vessels to swell. Symptoms can include burning, itchy or watery eyes, red or pink eyes, swollen or puffy eyelids, and even allergic conjunctivitis or pink eye, an inflammation of the clear tissues that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid.
Most pet lovers want the best of both worlds: keeping their adored pets, while minimizing their annoying symptoms. Below are some suggestions for alleviating your distress. Be sure to consult with your eye care professional and have your eyes examined before taking any medications – including over-the-counter remedies.
- Wash your hands after petting any animal and try to keep your hands away from your face and eyes. If you don’t have pets of your own, wash your clothes after visiting with friends who do.
- Cold compresses will relieve symptoms but are a very short-term solution for infrequent exposures to pets.
- Try to keep your pet outside as much as possible and don’t allow it to sleep in your bedroom. Close the air ducts to your bedroom if you have forced air or central heating/cooling.
- Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile or linoleum, all of which are easier to keep dander-free. If you must have carpet, select one with a low pile and steam clean frequently. Consider throw rugs that can be washed in hot water. Clean floors with a damp mop or rag, instead of a broom, to better trap allergens.
- Try artificial tears, decongestant eyedrops or oral antihistamines. These usually provide short-term relief and prolonged use could cause your symptoms to worsen. Some antihistamines can cause dizziness and sedation.
- Eyedrops (decongestant, antihistamine, mast cell stabilizer, corticosteroid)
- Allergy shots
- Non-sedating oral antihistamines
What about contact lenses? They can attract and accumulate airborne allergens. User proper hygiene and ask your eye care professional to recommend the best lens for you. Fortunately, most eye irritations due to pet allergies can be managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.