When it comes to allergies, dust mites are as irritating to dogs as they are to their owners, writes Dr Carmel Taylor.When it comes to allergies, dust mites are as irritating to dogs as they are to their owners, writes Dr Carmel Taylor.
After a stunned silence, Mrs Leong blurted out, “Now I may never sleep again…” She punched the speed dial on her phone. “Rose, get out the vacuum cleaner immediately!”
The reason for the sudden bout of spring cleaning? I had just revealed that her pug, Molly, had tested positive to house dust mites on her allergy test. Mrs Leong was horrified to hear she had been sharing her bed every night with literally millions of microscopic eight-legged creatures that live in soft furnishings (bedding, sofas, carpets). Mites feast on dead human and animal skin cells, producing a lot of poo, which contains the allergens responsible for up to 90 per cent of allergies in dogs – and humans, too.
While most asthma sufferers are aware of the misery mites can cause, many people with eczema never make the connection. Ten per cent of people surveyed in a recent poll by “My Pet” magazine thought pets induced allergies, and it is not uncommon for parents of children with allergic skin problems to be told to “get rid of the pet” by a well-intentioned medical professional.
However, scientists believe one of the main reasons allergies are skyrocketing is our increasingly enclosed living environments – a haven for dust mites. In addition, modern medicine has eradicated many childhood diseases that used to kickstart our immune systems. Our sanitised lifestyles lead our bored immune cells to attack anything that might resemble a life-threatening illness – in this case, mite poo.
Exposure to pets in early life means our immune cells recognise natural “dirt” and develop a normal immune system. Similarly, pets that are not permitted to get “down and dirty” are the usual patients in my allergy clinics.
The bad news for Mrs Leong is that no matter how much poor Rose vacuums, her war against these mites is unlikely to have much impact on Molly. Once Mrs Leong has recovered from her “mite mares”, we will start Molly on therapies to help manage her condition, including Allergen Specific Immunotherapy: injecting her with small quantities of the allergens she is sensitive to, helping to “train” the immune system to tolerate them over time. Sadly, allergies are seldom cured, so Mrs Leong will have her work cut out caring for her dog as well as her mattresses.
Rose can take comfort in knowing that unmade beds reduce the numbers of dust mites, as they do less well in drier conditions.