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To Scratch or not to Scratch - A Brief Look at Allergies in Pets

Allergies in pets(mostly dogs and cats) are diagnosed far more frequently these days than in the past. This is probably due to a combination of factors - more pets being taken to vets, better diagnostic tools, an increased allergen load in the environment, and probably indiscriminate breeding.

In most allergy cases the veterinarian (and the suffering pet!) are relying on you to give an accurate account of events leading up to when the symptoms were first observed.

Any animal can be allergic to any substance or product but generally pet allergies fit into one of several broad categories. These are:


1) Contact allergies.

2) Inhaled allergies (Atopy)

3) Food allergies

4) Flea allergy


The animal's immune system is responsible for the allergic reaction, which in many cases is seen as an intense itchy skin which makes the animal scratch a lot.However, a food allergy can also lead to vomiting and diarrhoea.


Unfortunately, once an animal is allergic to one factor, the chances are good that it will be more likely to become allergic to other things in its environment. Likewise, the older the animal gets, the more severe the allergy is likely to become.


As a result, one of the methods used to control allergies is to minimise the allergen "load" on allergy prone individuals. This involves measures like using hypo-allergenic shampoos to wash the pet, minimising the flea and tick load on the animal, feeding hypo allergenic diets etc.


The first and most important step in treating an allergic reaction in a pet is trying to identify the allergen i.e. what caused the allergic reaction. This is often easier said than done, especially if the condition has been present for some time before professional help is sought.


An accurate history can eliminate many possible causes straight away and allows the veterinarian to narrow the search down quickly to the most likely set of possibilities. This saves time and money and can speed up the diagnostic process. The faster an accurate diagnosis is made, the faster the relief for your pet.


A few warnings are in order though. From a veterinary point of view, allergies can be an extremely frustrating! It is not uncommon for weeks and months of diagnostic effort to come up with nothing conclusive in terms of identifying the allergen. This is because many cases are multi-factorial in origin, with many allergens possibly playing a roll.


In any event, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to "cure" an allergy. Mostly the best you can hope for is to manage the condition by limiting your pets exposure to the offending allergen(s) - the aforementioned allergen load.


There is little or anything the animal can do to avoid allergens in the food you feed it or the surrounds you keep it in.Your task then, as your

pets minder, is to enure that this allergen load is kept to a minimum which in turn will minimise the need for ongoing treatment and will ensure a happier, healthier pet.


Keith Perrett is a qualified Veterinarian


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Allergies - Antihistamines Part I


In this article we're going to discuss probably the most common form of treatment for allergy sufferers; the use of antihistamines, what they are and how they work in the body to rid people of their allergy symptoms.


In this article we're going to discuss probably the most common form of treatment for allergy sufferers; the use of antihistamines, what they are and how they work in the body to rid people of their allergy symptoms.


The first question most people ask about antihistamines is what they are. The reason is because when they see these little wonder pills advertised they are seeing the brand name and not what the pill actually is. The most popular brand names of antihistamines are Clarityn, Zyrtec, Allegra and Benadryl. There are plenty more though. The antihistamine industry is a multi billion dollar a year industry because of all the allergy sufferers but this still doesn't tell us what an antihistamine is.


Your common antihistamine comes in a little pill. How it actually works is quite amazing. What these pills do is release a chemical in our body that is very similar to and looks like a histamine to our body. These look-alike histamines make our body think that we basically have enough of these and keep the receptors in our body from working against them. In other words they stop the histamines in our body from working, thus relieving the symptoms.


What most people don't know is that this is not the only function of histamines. They also play a very important role in the brain, keeping us attentive, alert and awake. So, if we stopped all of the histamines in the body from working we would basically fall asleep. This can be especially dangerous when driving a car or operating heavy machinery and in fact, this is exactly what happens when we take old antihistamines. So if you have any of these laying around in your home, please get rid of them and do not take them. Those expiration dates on antihistamines are there for a reason.


The good news is, newer forms of antihistamines have a much better effect on your allergies with less effect on your brain. How this is accomplished is actually very simple. Some medicines barely make it into the brain from the blood. This is actually not a good thing with antibiotics for brain infections. But when research workers figured this out they started to make antihistamines that also had the same properties as antibiotics, thus making it so that very little of the drug makes its way to the brain. If you read most antihistamine labels today it will say right on it, "non drowsy".


In our next article in this series we'll discuss the safety concerns of antihistamines.


Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Allergies


Allergies - Antihistamines Part II

In this article we're going to discuss the possible dangers and side effects of antihistamines and what people should be aware of when taking antihistamines to treat their allergies.


The best way to explain what an antihistamine is and what it does is to actually break the word down. Antihistamine is composed of two words, anti and histamine. Anti means to be against something or act against something. Which leaves us with what a histamine is. A histamine is something that your body produces in defense to an attack of allergens. It is these histamines that bring on the terrible symptoms of sneezing, itching, watery eyes, etc. that we suffer from when we are attacked by these allergens. Thus, an antihistamine is something that works against the histamines that our body produces.


For the most part, antihistamines are safe. Having said that, antihistamines can have side effects which, if the antihistamine is not properly administered, can be serious.


The truth is, all medications have side effects. Some are mild, as in the case of an aspirin, unless you have stomach ulcers or aspirin sensitivity and others are more serious such as the side effects from chemotherapy, but for the most part, antihistamine side effects are fairly mild. The newest antihistamines are probably about the safest medications that there are. But there are differences between the various antihistamines and their side effects.


The older antihistamines have the most serious side effects. Because technology wasn't where it is now, older antihistamines can make you very sleepy, even to the point of falling asleep behind the wheel of a car. The harsh truth is, antihistamines have the same effect on your brain as alcohol. If you've been keeping up with the latest news you'll notice that people seem to be driving around in a drug induced haze. This is becoming a very serious problem in itself as there are no laws against driving while under the influence of prescription medication. That is most likely going to change very soon. According to experts, there is no doubt in their mind that older antihistamines can cause traffic accidents.


But that isn't where the effect of older antihistamines ends. They also affect learning and exam performance. Studies show that children with allergies who go to school after taking an antihistamine have poorer test scores than children who are not on antihistamines.


Another problem with older antihistamines is that one of the side effects is that people who use them sometimes have difficulty in passing water. or have increased pressure in their eyes. These symptoms, however, are very rare.


With the newer antihistamines, most, if not all of these side effects are a thing of the past. We have certainly come a long way. Therefore it is no longer necessary to use the older antihistamines.


Many people ask, how do we know the newer antihistamines are better? Actually, there are studies that clinically show that they are.

For starters, road safety studies were done. Two control groups were used. The one group was given older antihistamines and the other group was given the newer improved antihistamines. The results were staggering. The reaction time of the old antihistamine group was slower, their turning was more erratic, their attention was poor and in general they did not drive as skilfully. In some cases their driving was so bad and so dangerous that the test itself had to be stopped.


Another study was done on children going to school. Two control groups were again set up. The group that was given the older antihistamines had much lower test scores, sometimes as much as 20 to 30 points lower. Many of the students couldn't even finish their exams.


The only downside of the newer antihistamines, and for that matter any treatment of this sort for allergies, is that they are not a cure and over time a person can build up a resistance to a particular antihistamine where it no longer works. A new one then has to be given. The average length of time that a person can take a particular antihistamine before they have to move on to a new one is between 3 and 6 months.


Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Allergies

Allergies - Allergy Shots

In this article we're going to discuss a common form of battling allergies with the use of allergy shots and how allergy shots work to build up a person's immunity to outside allergens.


A growing number of people who suffer from allergies and not finding the relief that they want from antihistamines are turning towards allergy shots to hopefully put and end to their dreaded sneezing, wheezing, itching and misery.


So exactly what are allergy shots? Allergy shots actually contain a very small amount of whatever it is that you're allergic to. If you have multiple allergies, such as a combination of indoor and outdoor allergies, then two shots are actually given. One for the outdoor allergies and one for the indoor allergies.


How do allergy shots work? Well, in theory it's actually very simple. Allergy shots help your body fight the allergen that is bothering you. When you get shots of the allergen itself your body makes antibodies to the allergen. These antibodies help block the effects of the allergen itself. Your symptoms become less severe because the antibodies block the way your body reacts to the allergens. After taking enough of these shots over a long period of time you might start to get relief from your symptoms. This relief should last for a very long time.


For example, let's take hay fever season where the pollen count is especially high and have two people walk out into the street. The person who has a normal immune system and doesn't overreact to every outside allergen will probably not even notice that the pollen count is high. There will be no itching, sneezing, watering of the eyes or any symptoms whatsoever. The person who has an overactive immune system, at least to this particular type of allergen, will begin to sneeze. Maybe the eyes will start to water. In severe cases the person may even have trouble breathing, all because their immune system is viewing the pollen as a great threat.


Many kinds of allergies can be battled with allergy shots. They work very well with allergies to pollen, or what is commonly called hay fever. They also work for eye allergies, bee sting allergies, and even some drug allergies. In many people, allergy shots can greatly improve asthma symptoms. Most people will get allergy shots after they have exhausted every other option.


Unfortunately, not everyone can get allergy shots. If you have severe asthma or a heart problem you should not get allergy shots. Also, if you take a beta blocker for a heart condition you shouldn't take allergy shots. Children under five years of age should also not get allergy shots. Also, you shouldn't start allergy shots if you are pregnant.


If you decide, along with your doctor, to get allergy shots, he will first have to give you an allergy test to determine what allergies you have. This test in effect is actual treatment as some of each allergen has to be injected into you in order to do the test. After the results are in, a vaccine can be made which can then be given on a weekly or biweekly basis or for whatever interval the doctor thinks is necessary.


Once you start taking your shots you will at first have to take them every week or every other week. After about 6 months most people can go on what is called maintenance and get shots once each month. This usually continues for about 3 to 5 years until eventually most people no longer need to take shots because their immunity has been built up enough to the allergens.


Allergy shots are normally not harmful but some people do have reactions to them. If you should have a severe reaction the doctor will usually keep you in his office for about 20 minutes each time you get your shot so that if you have a reaction he can give you something to counteract it.


Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Allergies

Allergies - What Causes Them?

In this article we're going to discuss what causes allergies and why some people are more prone to suffer from allergies than others.

The first thing we need to understand is what an allergy is. An allergy is a reaction to something outside the body that the body itself feels is a threat to it. More specifically, this is the immune system.


The truth of the matter is, everybody has allergies in as much as the body is always going to view outside agents such as pollen, grass, weeds, and even foods as invaders. The difference between someone who "suffers" from allergies and someone who doesn't is the degree to which the body reacts or in the case of sufferers, overreacts to the allergen.


So the question is, why do some people have immune systems that behave normally and others have immune systems that overreact? Studies show that in most cases this is because these people are genetically disposed to reacting in such a manner. Maybe they inherited this particular predisposition from their mother or father. Maybe it even skipped a generation, but in most cases this is simply inherited.


In other cases, allergies are not inherited. In these cases the person's immune system does not work correctly or is weakened because of some other condition. Maybe they are a poor eater and thus aren't getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy. This can weaken the immune system and cause it to behave erratically. In other cases the weakened immune system is caused by another underlying problem such as an inability of the body to absorb a certain protein or amino acid.


In either case, the immune system becomes what we call "hyperactive". This results in the immune system identifying quite harmless substances as enemies and then reacts totally out of proportion to the threat itself. In some cases the reaction can be severe enough to cause some serious health problems. Yes, people can die from allergies so this is not something to be taken lightly.


Many people believe that if there is a genetic disposition to allergies then there is nothing that can do to solve the problem. This is actually not so. There are many things a person can naturally do to build up their immune system so that allergies are no longer a problem. These will be covered in future articles.


Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Allergies


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Allergic Condition - Many people don’t realize that their dogs, just like human beings, can suffer from allergies. In fact, about twenty percent of the dogs in the United States alone suffer from one allergy or another, with flea allergy dermatitis being the most common form of allergies in dogs. Other types include atopic dermatitis, food allergies, and inhalant allergies.


Allergic Reactions - Allergy rates are on the increase especially in Western countries (compared to people in less affluent rural parts of the world) and there is a growing body of evidence that strongly suggests that asthma is an environmentally induced disease.


Allergic Response - A healthy home environment means that contaminants that are harmful to your health are removed or neutralized as much as possible. For allergy sufferers, it is vital to try to limit the free distribution of air-borne allergens that can trigger allergic symptoms.


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