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Pet Allergies Guide: Symptoms, Treatment

Puppy and kitten who people can be allergic to because of pet allergies

February 20th is National Love Your Pet Day, a day to celebrate and appreciate your furry friends. But what happens when our furry best friends make our eyes water, our skin itch, and our chest tighten?

With the help of SIMED Gainesville Allergy and Immunology physician Dr. Belen Tan and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, we were able to answer your questions about pet allergies, including how to tell if you’re allergic to your pet and how to treat your allergies.

How common are pet allergies?

Millions of pet owners are allergic to their pets. While pet allergies in reptiles is rare, pet allergies are common among dogs, cats, rodents, and other animals with fur. About 10% of allergic individuals have allergies to pets. As many as one in five individuals with asthma are allergic to pets. People can also be allergic to birds.

How can I tell if I’m allergic to my pets?

Allergy testing by an allergist like those at SIMED’s Gainesville, Ocala, Chiefland, and Lake City locations is the best method to diagnose exactly what you are allergic to and help you figure out a plan.

If you get close to your pet and have more symptoms every time you’re around them, if you’re itching when you’re near your pet and your nose is runny or you’re sneezing and have other symptoms, you might be allergic to your pet.

Some people might not realize their symptoms are related to their pet because their symptoms are not as pronounced. You may have the symptom year round and not notice that it’s the culprit.

When your pets have access to the entire house, they fill the air with allergens. You can get accustomed to those allergens and not realize you have allergies. You could be allergic to pollen, weeds, and grass, but not notice because when your dog carries the allergens in after a walk, you continue to have symptoms indoors.

If your symptoms are so severe you need to find your pet a new home, the allergies could last for another 6 to 12 months after because the allergens are so light they stay in the air. It’s important to remember that symptoms continue after you leave the presence of the pet. Allergens can linger in the air, on furniture, on linens, on carpets, and on clothes.

What are the symptoms of pet allergies?

Sometimes the symptoms can be similar to hay fever.

Symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Itchy skin or raised, red patches (hives)
  • Asthma symptoms like wheezing, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness
  • Nasal congestion

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should get tested.

Why am I allergic to my pet? Will getting a hypoallergenic pet solve my problem?

People can be allergic to a pet’s dander, skin flakes, saliva, and urine. Pet hair or fur can also collect allergens, but people aren’t allergic to the pet fur itself.

Pet allergies occur year round and cause symptoms in the nose, throat, eyes, ears, skin, and roof of the mouth. There are no truly hypoallergenic breeds of dogs or cats because allergic dander in cats and dogs is not affected by length of hair or fur, nor by amount of shedding.

Some people may still do better with a dog or cat that has short hair or sheds less. Pets that are more easily bathed and enjoy baths might also be better for people with allergies.

What else can I do to help my pet allergies?Tips for Pet Allergies including dog and cat allergies infographic flat design

To help alleviate the symptoms of your pet allergies, you can:

1. Get tested and begin treatment
2. Try not to hug, kiss, or maintain close contact with your pet
3. Have someone without allergies brush the pet outside
4. Use a double or microfilter bag to vacuum
5. Use HEPA air cleaners (any air purifier should help as it sucks the allergens out of the air)
6. Remove carpeting and rugs
7. Speak with your vet about a balanced diet for your pet to prevent dry skin and excess shedding
8 Use covers on car seats if you travel with your dog
9. Keep your pet out of the bedroom

While you might be tempted to just put your animal outside, doing so will only cause a slight improvement. Dander will eventually find its way indoors on clothing or shoes.

Medications for Pet Allergies

If you have pet allergies, you could take antihistamines or other allergy medications to alleviate the symptoms. All antihistamines work differently on each pet owner so you might have to try a few to find one that fits for you.

Antihistamines can be divided into the newer, long-acting generation, like Claritin, Xyzal, Zyrtec, and Allegra, and older generations, like Benadryl and Chlor Trimeton. The new generation generally is preferred by most allergy patients because it is not as sedative as the old one.

Avoid driving when taking the older generation sedative antihistamines because, according to Florida Law, you can get a moving if you drive with the medication in your system.

Immunotherapy for Pet Allergies

If you continue to have symptoms, you can get immunotherapy. Most insurances cover immunotherapy completely, but for some insurance, there might be deductibles or a copay.

Immunotherapy involves desensitizing yourself to the allergies. There are different methods of immunotherapy. The gold standard is Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT). The newer type is Sublingual Immunotherapy.

The SCIT has been used for over 100 years and has been proven to work effectively. First, a person would receive shots every week to build-up the dose. The amount of shots and length of time for this step would vary depending on the person and the severity of their symptoms. After the first step is completed, the treatment would eventually be stretched out to one shot every month over a course of 3 to 5 years for maintenance. After going through the therapy, the individual would be tested again for allergies.

Sublingual Immunotherapy is newer, and it involves placing tablets or other solutions that contain allergens under your tongue to adjust to allergies. While the FDA has approved one for grass pollen and weed pollen and is in the process of approving one for dust mites, it has not approved similar drops for dander because they have not proven to be effective. Because pet allergy Sublingual drops have not been approved by the FDA, they are not covered by insurance and not administered by SIMED doctors.

What if none of the options above work?

Rehoming a pet can be a last resort, but if your allergies continue and you can’t handle them, you may need to find your pet a new home. Remember, it takes six or more months to get rid of the dander and relieve symptoms after the pet is gone.

Before parting with your pet, make sure to talk with your allergist about whether this is the best and only option for you. Your doctor understands the difficulty of parting with a loved pet and will work through every option with you to make sure you’ve exhausted all your resources.

We hope the information in this article will allow you to continue to love your pet without the side effects. Happy National Love Your Pet Day!

If you believe you might have pet allergies or another type of allergies, you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Tan or another SIMED Allergy and Asthma physician today. Call us at one of our offices:
Gainesville: (352) 331-3502
Ocala: (352) 547-1016
Chiefland: (352) 493-2305
Lake City: (386) 755-1651
Or request an appointment online today.

Food Allergies: Why You Should Get Tested

A young girl stares at a bowl that includes a statistic about food allergies.

Should You Get Tested For Food Allergies?

Every three minutes, someone is sent to the emergency room because of a food allergy reaction, but what about less severe food allergy reactions?

Some symptoms of food allergies take place hours after the food is consumed, and many symptoms might not be easily recognized. We spoke with Dr. Mercedes Pernice, a practicing allergist and immunologist at SIMED in Lake City and Gainesville, to find out the details on food allergies.

Who gets food allergies?

While food allergies can occur in both children and adults, symptoms are more common in children.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, about 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 1 to 3 percent of adults and 7 to 8 percent of children.

Sometimes children can outgrow food allergies like those to milk and eggs.

 

Infographic about food allergies including types of food and statistics about food allergies

What are some of the symptoms of food allergies?

Food allergy symptoms range from mild to severe. While food allergies can sometimes cause fainting episodes, reduced consciousness and even death, more common symptoms include:

  • Tingling
  • Mouth Itching
  • Mouth Swelling
  • Tongue Swelling
  • Generalized Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

In children, allergies can also manifest as eczema when food is eaten. Eczema is a condition resulting in red and itchy patches of skin.

What common foods trigger food allergies? 

Specific foods more commonly trigger allergy symptoms.

These include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts (cashews, chestnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Wheats

In children, eggs, milk and peanuts are the more common allergens. For adults, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish are the most common.

When should you or your child get evaluated for possible allergies?

You should see a doctor if you:

  1. Have symptoms or suspect you might have allergies, but you’re not sure what the trigger is.
  2. Can identify the trigger, but don’t know the severity or type of allergy.
  3. Have gastrointestinal symptoms or any concerns about food allergies.

It’s important for a specialist trained in the field, specifically an allergist, to evaluate you. A specialist can determine the cause and often limit or narrow down the possible triggers.

Allergy symptoms can sometimes be delayed for about two hours so it can be difficult to figure out what food you’re allergic to and if it’s even an allergy at all. In fact, a newly discovered meat allergy’s symptoms can be delayed up to four to six hours after the food is consumed.

Why should you or your child get tested?

It’s important to document the type of reaction because sometimes the reaction can be an allergy tolerance. An allergist will figure out if the symptoms are of true immune-related allergies or not because the symptoms are sometimes similar, and it’s important to differentiate. There are various types of allergies including those involving production of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, gastrointestinal symptoms, delayed dehydration and protein intolerance.

Determining the type of allergy can help with treatment, determining the severity and preventing further episodes. If you get tested, you can also determine the source of the allergy.

Certain allergies can cross-react. For example, if you’re very allergic to pollen, you can react when eating a banana or watermelon, but if you cooked the banana, you wouldn’t have a reaction. Because different materials have similar protein components, your body and brain might think they are the same and react to a food even if you’re not allergic to it. When it’s cooked the protein is altered and your body won’t react. An allergist can identify potential cross-reactive situations.

How can I treat food allergy symptoms?

If the symptoms are mild like mouth itching or minor swelling, but you are still able to talk and swallow, you can treat your symptoms simply by taking Benadryl (Diphenhydramine). If symptoms are more severe like generalized hives, rashes breathing or swallowing difficulties, you would need an epinephrine injector that can prevent serious reactions.

If an episode is severe, call 9-1-1 for help and take the person to the closest urgent care center or emergency room.

Is there a way to avoid the symptoms of food allergies?

The best practice to preventing food allergies is to avoid consuming foods that trigger the allergies.

After you’ve been tested and know the cause of your allergies, you should read the labels in anything you eat and ask at restaurants if foods contain the allergen.

When you’re cooking in an enclosed space, sometimes you can inhale the vapors of the food you’re allergic to, so be cognizant about allergies and avoid going into busy kitchens where your potential allergen could be cooking. Your allergist at SIMED will provide you with education on how to deal with your allergies.

 

Think you might have allergies? Get tested and treated today at SIMED Allergy and Asthma. We have offices in Gainesville, Ocala, Chiefland and Lake City. You can schedule an appointment online or call:

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Pernice in Gainesville or Lake City, call (352) 331-3502 or request an appointment online.

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Get some relief this Ragweed Season

Get some relief this Ragweed Season

Fall is just around the corner. As the season changes we trade I the sweltering hot days of summer for the cooler, crisp days of autumn. The humidity drops, the days get shorter and the nights longer. Being outdoors becomes much more comfortable. The fall season brings changes to the weather, but other things in the environment change as well.

For people with allergies, the fall season can lead to increased suffering. At SIMED Allergy & Asthma autumn triggers Ragweed Season and a significant increasing allergic reactions. Ragweed Season usually begins in the late summer, peaks in mid-September and lasts into November. For some people ragweed pollen is simply a nuisance creating a little sniffle, but for others it can interfere with daily living and comfort resulting in constant runny nose, sneezing and/or itchy eyes. Some may even develop asthma symptoms.

What could you do if you have ragweed allergy?

The best way to minimize ragweed allergy symptoms is to stay indoors in an air-conditioned environment. When outdoors activities occur try to minimize being outdoors early in the morning and wash off quickly once coming indoors. Over-the-counter, long-acting, non-sedating anti-histamines are good for treating the itchy eyes, nasal drip and sneezing. Taking anti-histamines daily starting just prior to and throughout the season works best at preventing the symptoms from building. The best medications for treating airborne allergies are the nasal steroid sprays.

If medications aren’t controlling symptoms, or you are not a fan of taking pills there are methods to desensitize your allergies. Desensitization uses allergy shots to reduce your response to ragweed exposure.

SIMED’s allergists have specialized training and expertise above and beyond any other medical or surgical specialty to evaluate your allergies and develop a treatment plan for your individual condition. The goal is to enable you to lead a life that is as normal and symptom free as possible.

For more information about our allergy division please visit SIMED Allergy & Asthma, or to schedule an appointment at any of our locations including Gainesville, Ocala, Chiefland and Lake City please click on this link to request an appointment online.

Allergy & Asthma Awareness Month

SIMED Celebrates Allergy & Asthma Awareness Month

Asthma has many causes, one of which is allergies. SIMED Allergy and Asthma Board Certified Allergist-Immunologist, Mercedes Pernice, MD, talks about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of these two very prevalent issues in North Central Florida.

Allergies

Every individual has unique allergic triggers.

"When the body comes into contact with an allergen, a chemical immune reaction occurs. This reaction inflames the nasal passages or bronchial tubes. Some reactions may cause skin reactions, as well," says Dr. Pernice.

People who have allergies in the fall tend to be reacting to ragweed. Summer allergies are likely due to grass pollens, ragweed and molds. Spring seasonal allergies peak in North Central Florida from February to May, when trees begin to pollinate.

The allergic reaction for many individuals, causes them to experience frustrating symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, throat irritation and more.

According to Dr. Pernice environmental and lifestyle changes can reduce your exposure to seasonal allergens.

"During the spring, keep windows closed and keep your air conditioning on to filtered and circulate the air. Stay indoors as much as possible, if practical."

Allergic reactions to animals or dust are also common.

"For indoor allergies, avoid dust mites and dander's, ideally do not own animals, and consider purchasing a HEPA filter," says Dr. Pernice

If you don’t see significant improvement to environmental or over-the-counter allergy remedies, a board certified allergist-immunologist physician can help you identify the source of your allergies and suggest more effective treatment based on your allergies.

Additionally, always tell your physician about your allergies if symptoms are prolonged and affect daily life.

"If you are missing school or work, experiencing headaches, having trouble sleeping, or frequently experience infections or asthma, consider having your allergies evaluated," says Dr. Pernice.

Asthma

Allergies are the most common trigger of asthma, however asthma can be caused by a variety of triggers.

Dr. Pernice says there are two general categories of asthma: 1) Extrinsic asthma, which is triggered by the outdoors, and 2) Intrinsic asthma triggered by chronic inflammation within the body.

"When someone has asthma, there is a degree of inflammation in the bronchial tubes, which narrows the airways causing coughing, chest tightness, or wheezing. Often times, patients report prolonged and recurrent coughing or wheezing," says Dr. Pernice.

There are many specific kinds of asthma, which can be determined by a board certified allergist-immunologist. It is important to understand the cause of ones asthma in order to treat it effectively.

Treating asthma is based on general guidelines, based on the severity of symptoms.

"First you start with a rescue inhaler, many of which contain the medicine Albuterol. Rescue inhalers relax the muscles in the bronchial tubes to open them up, and ease breathing. These are used on an as needed basis," said Dr. Pernice.

If a patient needs to use their rescue inhaler more than twice per week during the day-time or twice per month at night, other treatment options should be considered.

Depending on the severity of a patients symptoms they might find relief using inhaled corticosteroids, which decreased bronchial inflammation.

Non-allergic asthma triggers, like infections or underlying conditions such as chronic sinus disease or acid reflux, can cause asthma.

"One cause of asthma is upper respiratory infections. Patients may report having recurrent cold symptoms, and whenever they have these symptoms they 'go into my chest.' An average patient may get rid of a cold in about 7-10 days. However patients with asthma will have prolonged illness, lasting weeks to months." says Dr. Pernice.

Board certified allergist-immunologists have specialized training to evaluate and treat a broad range of allergy and immunology issues.

"We are trained to manage immunologic problems, for instance immune deficiency and recurrent infections, in addition to allergy problems," says Dr. Pernice.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to see board certified allergist-immunologist, ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Do you want to know what your allergic triggers are?
  2. Do you want a variety of treatment options for your allergies, beyond medication?
  3. Do you want to avoid allergic triggers, rather than take medications to treat the symptoms throughout your lifetime?
  4. Do you need a diagnosis that looks at a broad range of diseases, that may require special treatment?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," Dr. Pernice recommends scheduling an appointment. SIMED Allergy and Asthma offers treatment for allergies, asthma, and immunological conditions throughout North Central Florida. Our physicians are board certified Allergist-Immunologists, ready to help you breathe easier. Click here to request an appointment online.

Suffering from Seasonal Allergies? SIMED Allergy & Asthma can Help!

Suffering from Seasonal Allergies? SIMED Allergy & Asthma can Help!

At SIMED we’re often asked "Why should I see an Allergy – Immunologist? Can't any doctor treat my allergies?"  The reason you should choose a Board Certified Allergy – Immunologist is because they are specialists who are uniquely trained to diagnose and treat allergy and immunology disorders. While other doctors claim they can treat allergies they are not Board Certified allergists and have not had the additional years of training and expertise that comes with Board Certification.

Board Certified Allergists complete an additional 2 (or more) years of training in allergy and immunology with an accredited training program. Most are certified in internal medicine, pediatrics (or both) and have passed the examination given by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

The Allergist-Immunologist is uniquely trained in the following:

  • Allergy testing (skin test, in vitro studies)
  • Allergy test evaluations
  • Environmental control instructions
  • Immunotherapy
  • Food & drug challenges
  • Drug desensitization
  • Evaluation of immune competence
  • Education (disease, medication, and monitoring)
  • Management of chronic or recurrent conditions in which an allergy is not always identified (rhinosinusitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, cough, urticaria-angioedema, eczema, anaphylaxis)

The allergist-immunologist can also help manage the following cases:

  • Anaphylaxis (systemic allergic reaction)
  • Asthma
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Chronic Cough
  • Dermatitis
  • Food & Drug Allergy
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Insect hypersensitivity
  • Occupational allergic diseases
  • Primary immune deficiency
  • Rhinitis-rhinosinusitis
  • Urticaria-angioedema

SIMED Allergy & Asthma strives to provide exceptional healthcare coverage for our patients. In order to help achieve this goal we provides three Board Certified Allergist-Immunologists on staff covering our Gainesville, Ocala, Chiefland and Lake City locations.

To see if an Allergist-Immunologist is right for you, contact one of our offices to set up an appointment:

  • Gainesville - (352) 331-3502
  • Ocala - (352) 547-1016
  • Lake City - (386) 755 - 1651
  • Chiefland - (352) 493 - 2305

CLICK HERE to request an appointment online.