'Hypoallergenic dog'? Don't fall for the myth

Almost daily, I have parents tell me not to worry because even though they or their children are allergic to dogs, they have purchased a hypoallergenic dog. I hesitate sharing that the hypoallergenic dog is just a myth. To be sure, it is an incredible marketing ploy. Just who started this urban legend remains a mystery. If you type in "hypoallergenic dogs" on Google, you'll find no shortage of breed suggestions.

Even the American Kennel Club has a list of many dogs that are best for allergy sufferers. The AKC does not go so far as to endorse them as best for people with dog allergies, but it does state that "These dogs have a predictable, non-shedding coat which produces less dander."

Lets look at the science behind dog allergies. The primary allergen from dogs is Canis familiaris allergen 1, or Can f 1. This allergen, a protein, is found in the saliva and urine of dogs. The protein sticks to the dead, dry flakes from your pet's skin, which is dander. An animal's fur is not the source of the allergen, although it can surely be an irritant to mucous membranes and airways.

A landmark study was done in 2011 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to determine whether homes with hypoallergenic dogs had less Can f 1 than homes with other dogs. All homes were single-dog homes. The results showed no significant difference in the amount of Can f 1 found in the homes. In clinical practice, it does appear that certain individual dogs are less allergenic to certain patients, but this is not a breed-specific characteristic. Likely, it is a factor specific to an individual dog's genetics, diet and behavior.

More than 33 percent of U.S. homes have a dog, making canine allergies quite a public health concern. These allergies are strongly associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis. Up to 30 percent of patients with allergic disease are sensitive to animals. Symptoms of dog allergy can include:

• Runny, sneezing nose

• Itchy, watery eyes

• Nasal congestion

• Cough

• Wheezing or shortness of breath

• Hives or itching of skin

An allergist can help identify if you are allergic to your animals.

If you do have dog allergies, you must minimize your interaction with the animal. Your dog must not sleep in your bed or even in your bedroom. The bedroom must become a dog-free zone with some barrier to keep the dog from entering even when you are not there. It is important to have someone clean the bedroom once the animal has been relocated. All hard surfaces should be wiped down with a damp cloth to physically try to remove as much dander as possible from walls, furniture, etc. A HEPA air purifier should be placed at the head of your bed and run when you are home. This is a prime opportunity to extract some dander from the air, as Can f 1 is extremely lightweight and may remain airborne for hours. Bathing your pet weekly also can help to reduce the amount of pet dander in your home.

The very best way to deal with a dog allergy is to remove the dog from the home.

While this is very difficult for many families, it is sometimes necessary, especially when the patient is suffering from significant asthma that can be life threatening.

Even after removing an animal from your home, it can take six months to several years to fully rid the home of animal dander.

Talking with your allergist can help you identify the best ways to diagnose and treat your dog allergies. Avoidance, medications and allergy injection therapy are all options that might be right for you. Just remember not to fall for the "hypoallergenic dogs" myth.