Environmental allergies encompass Contact Allergies and Atopy (or Atopic Dermatitis).
Contact allergies require direct contact of an allergen or substance with the skin to cause a reaction, which means that the areas affected are expected only to be the areas with little or no hair. Common causes of contact allergy are plants such as Wandering Jew (Tradescantia species), Moses In The Cradle (Rhoeo species), and ground succulents in the Commelinceae family. However, many substances can cause contact allergies, such as concrete, floor polishes, and other household chemicals. Like humans, contact allergies can be very specific and vary between individuals.
Management of contact allergies are focused around avoiding contact with known allergenic substances, and reducing skin exposure to allergens. Using hypoallergenic, oatmeal based shampoos and conditioners can help reduce the allergen load on the skin by physically washing away the substance from the skin. Some people fit bodysuits to their pets to reduce their exposure to allergens. Treatment for contact allergies may involve using medicated lotions and sprays, or oral steroids, antihistamines and other anti-itch medications. These may only be needed in the event of a sudden allergic reaction if the substance can be avoided most of the time. Avoidance is not possible for all cases though, and sometimes long-term medical management is needed.
Atopy is a generalised skin disease complex that is a result of abnormal skin barrier function, and hypersensitivity to allergens that do not require direct contact with the skin, and occur over any region of the body regardless of hair-coat. Atopy is often likened to eczema and hayfever, and may be triggered by things such as pollens, moulds, and dust mites. The changes in the skin barrier allows allergens and infections to more easily penetrate the skin, which worsens the immune reaction. Many atopic animals experience frequent secondary infections, which worsen their condition.
Management of atopy can be approached in three ways: reducing the immune reaction, improving the skin barrier function, and treating the infections. The immune reaction can be treated with a vaccine following consultation and assessment with a veterinary dermatologist to desensitise the animal to the allergens. This immunotherapy aims to actually make the animal less sensitive long-term. Another type of vaccine is available with your regular vet that binds the allergens before they are able to trigger any immune response. We can also manage the immune reactions using anti-itch mediations and/or steroids. The skin barrier function can be improved by the addition of supplements containing essential fatty acids, and topical washes and conditioners to help keep the skin hydrated and provide some temporary relief from irritation. Infections can be managed and controlled by oral medications, topical creams, and medicated shampoos and rinses.
Management and treatment of environmental allergies can be complex, and must be tailored to the individual needs of each animal. The same treatment may not work exactly the same patient to patient. This is why in-depth discussion with your vet is key to finding the best management solution for you and your pet.