For anyone who suffers from allergies, the age-old dilemma is this: “Do I keep my animal companion and suffer, or do I follow my doctor’s advice and give up my furry pal?” I developed fairly severe allergies as an adult. For me there was never a question: my animals were part of my family and would remain so. I told my doctor that getting rid of them was completely out of the question,and from there we discussed my options. After all, many of us are also allergic to pollens, grasses, and trees. It is highly unlikely that we will never go outside; instead we learn to adapt.
My allergies were not something that I had my entire life, for which I am thankful. Imagine my shock when I developed them virtually overnight in my late 20’s! I felt like I had a vicious cold all the time. I even got stuffy ears,sore throats, and puffy eyelids, on top of the usual hayfever symptoms. I was grouchy. I was a disaster. I tried over-the-counter remedies, which were fairly effective, but unpleasant. A decongestant that also helps dry up eyes and nose gave me a rapid or irregular heartbeat, dry mouth and irritability. Caffeine exacerbated these effects. Any antihistamines knocked me completely into a stupor. Allergy eyedrops didn’t stop the itching.
In desperation, I went to an allergist. He tested me for a wide range of grasses, weeds, pollens, molds, animal dander and others. I was allergic to so many, I won’t begin to list them. The only dander they tested me for at the time (apparently this was all this doctor used) was that of cats and dogs. I registered quite allergic to dogs and severely allergic to cats.I had grown up with both my whole life, but at that time had only my sweet beautiful bunny-boy, Beau, and his guinea pig companion, Shelby.I didn’t seem to have problems with either one of them for the first few months we had them.
The doctor started me on a series of “desensitizing” injections. Basically, this consists of mixing an elixir of all your allergens and then injecting you with slowly increasing doses, to acclimatize your body to these substances. Once you reach the maximum level, they continue you at a maintenance dosage. In addition, he prescribed antihistamines (non-drowsy ones!), corticosteroids to be sprayed in the nose, and others to be used in the eyes for itching and redness.
Some time later, I developed severe allergies to Shelby, the guinea pig. I wheezed if I held her, my lips and eyelids would puff up if I kissed her, and any part of my body that touched her would produce welts. Back to the allergist. Unfortunately, he told me that I had developed asthma! Apparently this was just a manifestation of my allergies worsening. He prescribed an asthma inhaler. Later that progressed to two. One is a bronchodilator (which opens the bronchial tubes), the other a corticosteroid (which keeps the tubes open).
All of these remedies together began to help. I did seem to build up a bit of an immunity, and didn’t have the violent sneezing attacks I had once suffered. I took the antihistamines as needed, and the rest I did regularly per directions.
Interestingly enough, one of the simplest and most effective things that was suggested to me, not by my allergist but by my internist, was an HEPA filter.
In addition to being an allergy sufferer, the internist was a firm believer in avoiding medications when possible. She would spend an hour in an allergen-free room with the filter, close all the windows, and emerge a new woman. I bought the brand she recommended, and it changed everything for the better. It filters out dust, dust mites, fumes, animal hair and dander, etc.
I have now had allergies for 7 years. I have been getting the injections, and using various combos of meds as needed. The medications are constantly changing and improving.
I still suffer a lot during the winter rains (molds) of Southern California, some spring blooming kills me, and I get very allergic around cats, guinea pigs and my rabbits when molting. Hay and dust can also drive me into a frenzy. Since Beau, we have had 5 other bunnies of our own, and a multitude of foster bunnies coming and going.
I have learned to pre-medicate, using all my tools before approaching the allergen triggers, including my beloved animal-pals. It is really hard to get an allergy attack to subside after it has begun full-force, so pre-medicating, and being diligent about using long-term preventatives (such as the nasal corticosteroids), are vital. Putting HEPA filters in the rooms where the pets are also helps, and I highly recommend one in the bedroom. Larger HEPA filters can cover several rooms, and smaller ones can be carried from room to room.
When my bunnies are molting, I ask for help with the grooming. If there is no one to help, I buy a package of disposable masks (available at hardware and home-improvement stores) and use these while handling hay or brushing bunnies. I wash my hands immediately after each handling.
I use the whole arsenal of tools available to allergy sufferers and concentrate on preventing trigger effects, rather than just treating symptoms afterwards. I do both, if necessary.
If you are truly committed to your companion animals, there is almost always a way. I cannot imagine life without mine, so a little suffering is worth it ten-fold!
By Laurie Ansberry
House Rabbit Journal Spring 1999: Volume III, Number 12