With the onset of winter and the ongoing pandemic, taking care of one's lungs is more pertinent than ever, especially for people with respiratory problems. In large cities with constantly degrading air quality, such people must take concrete measures to ensure optimal respiratory health.
Though smoking and pollution remain the primary contributors to most pulmonary diseases, having a pet at home may also have an impact on these illnesses. COPD is one such chronic respiratory disease that has several triggers, one of which is pet allergies.
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, commonly known as COPD, is a chronic respiratory condition where the airways in the lungs become swollen, thus blocking the flow of the air. COPD involves two different types of respiratory diseases; emphysema (damage to the air sacs present in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (long-term inflammation of the air passage).
The common symptoms of COPD involve progressive breathlessness, persistent chest congestion and wheezing, cough with phlegm and frequent respiratory infections. Though COPD is mostly associated with smoking, it can also occur to people who get exposed to dust, chemicals and pollutants in the air. There is currently no cure for COPD but certain treatment measures can help slow down the progression of the disease and provide relief against the symptoms.
What are the triggers for COPD?
COPD triggers can be different for different people. To stay healthy and prevent flare-ups, you need to identify your personal triggers and take steps to avoid them. The common COPD triggers include:
- Tobacco smoke (both first-hand and second-hand smoking)
- Chemical fumes released from toxic cleaning products, paints, and other solvents
- Dust (produced both indoors and outdoors)
- Pet dander (tiny bits of skin shed by animals)
- Strong smell produced from perfumes, scented candles and air fresheners
- Indoor pollution by the fumes released during cooking, oil heaters, etc.
- Outdoor air pollution
- Extreme weather (too hot or too cold)
- Pollen allergies (during spring and autumn seasons).
Can having a pet aggravate COPD?
Pet dander is tiny bits of skin shed by dogs, cats, rodents, birds and other animals who have feathers or furs. These flecks of the skin can cause allergy or act as a trigger to some respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD.
People with COPD who are allergic to pet dander and other animal-related allergens must take extra care to ensure an allergen-free home. Since pet allergens are microscopic in nature, they are easy to spread but extremely difficult to get rid of. Studies reveal that a protein found in the saliva and urine of pets sticks to their skin and fur, spreading allergies. Pets can also carry various bacteria, viruses and parasites, which can transmit to humans and result in respiratory illnesses.
What precautions can people with COPD and pets take?
There are certain safeguards that can be taken by pet-owning COPD patients, to ensure maximum protection from allergens.
- A clean and groomed pet can make a substantial difference. Regular bathing and brushing the pet can minimize the dander from spreading.
- People with COPD should avoid engaging in grooming and bathing of the pet themselves. A professional, family member or friend could help with this.
- Brushing and cleaning the pet should always be done outside the house so as to minimise the spread of dander and fur inside the house. Wear a mask during the cleaning.
- Toys, litter boxes and cages of the pets should be thoroughly cleaned, while wearing a mask, to minimise any contact with dander, fur, urine and saliva.
- COPD patient must not let their pet come in close proximity to their face as the germs and fluff dander are more likely to spread this way and can negatively aggravate the disease.
- Regular visits to the vet must be ensured to keep the pet updated on the vaccination schedule.
- One can use professional products such as pet wipes as they do not strip the natural oils from the fur but can effectively clean the animal.
- The frequency of the pet’s baths should not be too often as it could lead to dry skin which results in more shedding.
- A high-efficiency particulate air purifier (HEPA purifier) can help keep the home from the dander accumulated in dust particles, which land on various surfaces across the house.
- Use of vacuum cleaners all around the house is recommended to get rid of pet dander. Vacuum bags are easier to clean, thereby reducing the risk of dander spreading via the air. Make sure that the carpets in the house are cleaned thoroughly.
- The bedroom should be kept as a sanitized, dander and fur-free area, by keeping pets away from here.
Sometimes, people with allergies and respiratory diseases are advised not to have pets at home. However, by taking necessary precautions, people with such conditions can also enjoy the company of these lovable creatures. Studies have shown that pets also help in improving the mood, lowering blood pressure and stress, and keeping the house cheerful – all essential elements for a healthy and happy life.
It is recommended that people with respiratory issues who are considering getting a pet, consult their doctor beforehand.