The Houston eye doctors at the Berkeley Eye Center regularly see cases of allergy-related eye irritation. In many instances, our patients are surprised to learn that the source of the allergy is their family pet.
What Causes Eye Allergies?
Along with runny noses, sinus congestion, coughing and sneezing, eye irritation is one of the common discomforts associated with an allergic reaction. Known as allergic conjunctivitis or ocular allergies, these reactions are triggered when your eyes come into contact with an allergen.
Your immune system reacts to the harmless allergen as if it were harmful invader. It begins producing histamine, a chemical that causes swelling and inflammation in the eyes, nose and sinus passages. Symptoms of an eye allergy can include redness, itching, burning and watery eyes, as well as sensitivity to light, swollen eyelids and “allergy shiners” – black circles or puffiness under the eye. Eye allergies can be triggered by a number of things, including pollen, dust mites, mold spores, smoke and pet dander.
Pet-related Eye Allergies
Almost any animal with fur or feathers can cause an allergic reaction in humans. Since 62% of all households have pets, it’s easy to see why pet dander is one of the leading causes of chronic eye allergies. Dander consists of flakes of dead epithelial skin cells that dogs, cats, rodents, birds and even people regularly shed from their bodies.
Proteins in your pet’s saliva and urine can also cause an allergic reaction. Despite what you might have heard, your pet’s fur isn’t an allergen; however, pollen, dust or mold trapped in their fur may produce an allergic reaction. The same thing goes for bird feathers.
Treatments for Eye Allergies
The last thing most pet owners want to do is give up their beloved animals. This includes people who own pets and suffer from pet-related eye allergies. There are pets that don’t produce allergic reactions, but most people want a pet that’s a little cuddlier than a fish or a reptile. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to prevent or lessen the occurrence of an allergic reaction caused by a dog, cat or other pet.
First, you can make your home environment more allergen-free. Clean your house regularly, especially rugs, carpets, upholstery and other places where allergy-causing pet dander can accumulate. Dust often. If you own a cat, make sure litter boxes are kept clean. Vacuum frequently with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter. Install an air purifier with a HEPA filter as well. Another solution is to set aside a room in your house that pets are not allowed to enter.
There are also things you can do to reduce the allergens found on your pet. Bathe and brush your pets frequently – outdoors, if possible. There are products you can get from the vet that prevent dander from building up and flaking off. Look for symptoms of dermatitis in your pets, as this often accelerates the production of dander.
Finally, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Remember to wash your hands after handling your pet. Make sure to avoid touching your face – especially around the nose or eyes – until after you’ve washed your hands. Wear a filter mask and protective eyewear while cleaning the house, your pet’s litter box, bedding, dog house or cage. Have a special set of clothes that you only wear while playing with your pets. Wash and dry them immediately after spending time with your pet.
It’s also important to find a healthcare provider with the expertise to determine that your pet is, in fact, the cause of your allergies and offer solutions, such as medications and immunotherapy, to alleviate your symptoms.
Eye Allergy Help in Houston
If you believe your pet is responsible for your eye allergies, schedule an eye exam at the Berkeley Eye Center. Our Houston eye specialists have many years of experience when it comes to determining the cause of an eye allergy and providing our patients with effective treatment and prevention options.