They are not just our companions,but also our friends and many people maintain relatively close physical contact with their four-legged friends. This can lead to allergic reactions in sensitive people. According to estimates, over ten percent of pet owners in Germany suffer from an animal hair allergy.
The triggers are not the animal hair
A common misinformation is that long-haired animals cause more problems for allergy sufferers than short-haired animals. The trigger for animal hair allergy is not the animal hair itself, but protein-containing components of the sweat, sebum, saliva or urine of our animal favorites. These stick to the hair and spread in the air as dust.
If they land on the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or bronchi, they can trigger an allergic reaction if the person is sensitized to the respective animal species.
Animal hair allergies – causes
Allergies are generally to be understood as an immune reaction to factors that are not inherently harmful, which can place a heavy burden on the respective organism. Allergies are always acquired, that is, they are based on the formation of antibodies, which is caused in the case of an animal hair allergy by the action of certain animal proteins on the organism. An indicator of the allergic reaction is the increase in the so-called IgE, an immunoglobulin, which can be measured in the blood.
Symptoms of an animal hair allergy
The first symptoms of an animal hair allergy are:
- red eyes
- runny nose
- sneezing attacks
With continued contact with the animal, the condition worsens, and asthma attacks can occur, which are manifested by a seizure-like, severe shortness of breath with a narrowing of the airways. An animal hair allergy is usually easy to recognize, since the respective symptoms usually appear immediately when the person concerned comes into contact with the animal allergen.
Animal hair allergies: not only for pet owners
However, many people develop an animal hair allergy without being in contact with the respective animals. Diagnosis is much more difficult here. Especially in the case of a cat allergy , a low allergen contact is often sufficient, for example through neighbors or friends who are holding a cat. Sensitization to cat hair can also take place at school or at the workplace, as the cat allergens often stick to the clothes of cat friends and can be transported further.
In contrast to the classic “indoor allergies” (for example allergies to dust mites or mold), the occurrence of animal hair allergies is not limited to your own four walls.
Which animals often trigger allergic reactions?
Cats: The main triggers of animal hair allergies are cats. Due to their particularly good floating properties, cat allergens are still in the apartment months after the animal has been abolished. The cat hair can be found in the suspended dust, on carpets, furniture and wallpaper. Even rooms in which the cat has never been are not free of cat allergens. Breed differences in cats can play a role in raising awareness, as there are differences between the allergen structure of different cat breeds, sometimes even different individuals. In practice, this can mean that if a cat is allergic, not every cat has to cause an allergic reaction.
Dogs: The dog, the best friend of man, often triggers an allergy, but this is generally less aggressive than cat allergy, ie there are only mild allergy symptoms. Here, too, an allergy can be race-specific.
Guinea pigs: Allergies to guinea pigs are not uncommon and can manifest themselves through a relatively strong reaction. Here the allergen is a protein molecule found in the urine.
Birds: Birds can also cause allergies due to their feathers and droppings. Bird mites can also be the cause. The allergic reaction to pigeons is particularly noteworthy.
On the one hand there is the “normal” allergic reaction to the pigeon antigen, on the other hand, but fortunately rarely, pigeon fanciers in particular can develop an allergy that is only partially related to the pigeons. Substances in the pigeon droppings and certain molds in the dried state represent a dangerous dust, which can lead to breathing difficulties due to disruption of the gas exchange taking place in the lung alveoli (“pigeon fancier’s or bird owner’s lung”). If further contact with the animals is not avoided in this clinical picture, it can lead to a life-threatening illness.
How is an animal hair allergy safely diagnosed and treated?
An animal hair allergy is suspected if one or more of the above symptoms occur when in contact with an animal. This suspicion can be confirmed by skin tests and antibody detection in the blood. However, a completely reliable diagnosis can only be made if the patient is completely symptom-free if the relevant allergen is avoided. In exceptional cases, a provocation test is also carried out. The suspect substance is applied to the nasal or bronchial mucosa under medical supervision.
Precautions and tips
Observe the following precautions and tips if you, as a pet owner, have an animal hair allergy:
- wash hands after each contact with the animal
- Keep cats outside
- Keep the bedroom strictly animal-free
- Furnish an apartment with little furniture and no carpets
- Wash and comb animals as often as possible
- Avoid physical contact with the pet as much as possible
- Purchase vacuum cleaners with particularly powerful filter properties and vacuum them every day.
For severe allergies and in families with allergies, however, there is strict advice to avoid a pet altogether or to abolish it. It is reported time and again that a severe allergy to animal hair could be overcome without being separated from the beloved pet, but the persons concerned risked a great deal, as there can also be life-threatening illnesses if in doubt. After removing the pet from the household, upholstered furniture, carpets, mattresses and similar furniture should be subjected to intensive cleaning.
Remove animal hair from the apartment
Nevertheless, there may be an increased allergen concentration in the home for many weeks, especially with a cat allergy. Sometimes in these cases it is necessary to remove carpets and re-paper them and to give away the furniture (especially upholstered furniture). If an animal hair allergy occurs despite avoidance of animal contact, the following instructions must be observed:
- Mattresses and upholstered furniture filled with horsehair should be avoided.
- Avoid angora wool from rabbits and goats, clothing made from alpaca wool, furs, sheepskins, textiles and carpets made from unprocessed sheep’s wool – also in the form of felt – and blankets made from camel hair.
- Avoid feather beds if you have an allergy to feathers; The fine dust that arises when the beds are shaken out is particularly allergenic. A dust mite allergy is often wrongly assumed.
- Washable blankets and pillows with polyester filling are suitable as bedding. The bedding should be washed frequently.
- Ask work colleagues, friends, acquaintances and relatives about any pets that may be present.
- Take off street shoes before entering the apartment.
- Avoid cigarette smoke because the constant irritation of the airways makes it easier for allergens to attack the mucous membranes.
- Temporary antihistamines (spray, tablets, drops), anti-allergic eye drops or decongestant nose drops can provide relief; this also applies to situations in which occasional contact with the animal allergen cannot be avoided.
Severe cases of animal hair allergy
In the case of severe animal hair allergies, specific immunotherapy should be considered so that the person concerned has protection against accidental contact with the respective animal species.
Specific immunotherapy can also be used in people for whom it is impossible to avoid the allergen for a variety of reasons. It ensures hyposensitization of the patient by administering the allergen in increasing doses over a period of at least three years under medical supervision. This can completely eliminate the allergic complaints.
However, there may also only be a better allergen tolerance, which can also lead to a subjective improvement in the symptoms. The effectiveness of laser resonance therapy or raw food-rich diet has not been scientifically proven.