Summer itch…

July 11, 2013

Summer time can be very difficult for people who suffer from hay fever.

While cats and dogs rarely get runny noses and eyes, they can suffer from pollen sensitivities which can be just as debilitating.

In animals, pollen sensitivities usually present with signs associated with skin irritation such as itching and hair loss.

It used to be thought that the pollens triggered the allergic reaction by being inhaled but it is now thought that much of the allergic stimulation comes from direct contact and penetration through the skin. The more broken the skin surface becomes due to self-trauma and skin inflammation, the more permeable the skin becomes to penetrating allergens so these problems can rapidly get worse as the spiral of trauma and allergen exposure progresses.

Fortunately, there are a variety of options available to control these problems.

The best way to deal with any allergy is to avoid exposure to the allergen. This can be difficult in the case of pollens but identifying the precise origin of the pollen can be useful to minimise exposure. Blood tests and skin tests can be very useful to identify the culprit.

Sometimes, pets can be allergic to a number of different allergens or avoiding exposure may be impossible. In those cases, some form of medication might be necessary.

Essential fatty acid supplements can help to restore the skin’s protective barrier and limit the direct penetration of allergens.

Bacterial and Fungal invaders will quickly take advantage of the skin’s weakened state and will trigger further inflammation and so antibiotic and antifungal treatment is often required in these animals.

Antihistamines are sometimes useful in relieving the itch in the skin and reducing the self-trauma caused by excessive licking and scratching; however, histamine plays a lesser role in the allergic response in dogs and cats, compared to in humans, so these drugs can be poorly effective.

Drugs which suppress the immune system, such as steroids, and immunomodulators, are often required as they bring about a speedy improvement but need to be used with care to avoid unwanted side effects.

Lastly, we can often look at developing a custom made desensitisation treatment which is specifically tailored to the animal’s allergy profile.

Like many Veterinary Medical issues, the secondary problems associated with on-going allergies can be more difficult to manage than the initial allergy so prompt investigation and treatment are essential.

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