UCL News


A life dogged by allergies

26 March 2006

My dog allergy first became apparent, or so I'm told, in 1979, when the neighbour's golden retriever reached over into my cot and licked my face.

Quite what a dog was doing in such close proximity to a newborn baby is anyone's guess, but my face swelled to the size of a small moon. …

Now that I'm 26, my dog allergy - something I share with six million other people in Britain - is still just as bad. Or so I believed. Despite dog-loving parents, for as long as I lived at home it was a canine-free zone. After moving out, I thought that my continual threats to disown them if they ever got a dog, might work. Such confidence, it would seem, was misplaced.

Miniature schnauzers, the old dears insisted, were an allergy-friendly breed, described as 'hypo-allergenic'. And with that breezy assurance, I was introduced to a new addition to the family: Archie. Forget antihistamines, it would seem that hypo-allergenic dogs were the answer. Archie was met without a single sneeze, cough or runny eye. …

However, after a lifetime of suffering, I am more than a little bemused by the whole thing. What are hypo-allergenic dogs and why do other people's canines still trigger a sneezing marathon? …

According to Muriel Simmons, the chief executive of the charity Allergy UK, there is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog. The reaction people suffer could be due to a number of triggers, she says, such as proteins in the dog's saliva, which are then licked on to the fur, or the proteins in the dander (dried skin) or bacteria and fungus on its coat. …

Professor John Foreman [UCL Pharmacology] agrees. "All animals shed dander and so it's very unlikely that a particular breed, such as a schnauzer, would be more or less likely to cause allergies." My allergy-free disposition, Professor Foreman said, could well be down to luck and the uniqueness of Archie's DNA make-up.

"It's a bit of a lottery and one that isn't well understood, but some proteins in the dander stimulate the immune system in a particular way, triggering an allergic response, while others don't. You could just be lucky that you don't react to his proteins."

Tom Bryant, 'The Times', 25 March 2006