Atopic Dermatitis - it's in the air!

Atopic dermatitis or Atopy, as it is more commonly known, is an allergic skin reaction caused by the inhalation (breathing in) of allergens. These include pollens, housedust, molds, feathers, etc.

Classicaly, atopy is a seasonal allergy with the animal reacting to pollens over the summer period and then the clinical signs disappear over winter.However, as the animal gets older it can become more allergenic, reacting to more and more allergens (not only pollens) until it displays clinical signs throughout the year!

Initial clinical signs include scratching, licking - especially the feet, sneezing, face rubbing and a runny nose.This can progress to hair loss, crusting of skin with secondary bacterial infection and later a thickened, dark skin.

Because the skin can only react in a limited number of ways to a limitless number of potential "attacks" on it, the same clinical picture can be the result of any one or a combination of a multitude of possible causes. Thus a skin allergy caused by atopy has to be differrentiated from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), food allergies, hormonal imbalances and pyodermas to name but a few.

Identifying the particular allergen(s) responsible is best done by intradermal skin testing, although that also has its limitations. Consult your Veterinarian for the nitty gritty on this procedure.

This is probably the hardest type of allergy to address adequately because it is usually almost impossible to remove the pet from the offending allergen that is floating around in the air.

Although there are specfic treatments available (again, consult your veterinarian for the latest) in many cases one can only manage atopic dermatitis and make the animal as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. This requires work and dedication on the part of the pet owner.