Q: My 4-year-old son is allergic to dog dander and sometimes starts coughing and wheezing when he’s around our family dog. Is there a risk he could get a reaction without any contact? Or is it something else?
Stanley Fineman, MD: It could be your son has asthma triggered by exposure to the dog. This needs to be evaluated by a board-certified allergist. You need to get an accurate diagnosis to find out what exactly is triggering symptoms.
The allergist may ask questions such as: What’s the history of symptoms? Do others in your family have asthma or allergies? What other allergens might be triggering symptoms?
For example, maybe there’s coughing and wheezing due to a cold or infection. Or maybe there are symptoms during exercising, or while laughing. The allergist will conduct a physical examination that should provide more clues to what is causing the allergic reaction.
And then the allergist may recommend allergy skin testing to find out for sure what’s triggering the reaction. Allergy skin testing is a very accurate and specific way of diagnosing allergic sensitivities. You son would undergo a skin test for dog allergy, as well as other potential allergens.
Q: What do you suggest we do with our dog? Should we give it away, or just keep it outside?
Dr. Fineman: This is a real problem for many families. Almost half of people in the United States have some kind of pet in the home. And those people love their pets. But it’s very problematic if you have pet allergies.
When the pet allergy is severe or is causing severe asthma symptoms, giving away the dog should be a consideration.
For those who choose to keep a dog, you have to develop a strategy the family can live with long-term. Try to keep the pet in a confined area, maybe in a crate in the kitchen, when they’re not outside. This will limit the spread of dog dander. Definitely keep the dog out of bedrooms – you don’t want to breathe in dog allergens all night while asleep.
I would also suggest getting a shorter-haired dog that won’t shed so much hair and dander all around the house.
By limiting exposure, you can keep the pet as part of the family, but not put the child at so much risk for an allergic reaction.
Stanley Fineman, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Atlanta Allergy and Asthma. He is Past President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and serves as a board member with Allergy & Asthma Network.
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