They are not only our housemates, but also our friends and many people maintain a relatively close physical contact with their four-legged housemate. This can lead to allergic reactions in sensitive people. It is estimated that more than ten percent of pet owners in Germany suffer from animal hair allergy.
Triggers are not the animal hair
A common misinformation is that long-haired animals cause more problems for the allergic person than short-haired ones. The trigger in animal hair allergy is not the animal hair itself, but protein-containing components of sweat, tallow, saliva or the 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 concerned is sensitized to the respective animal species.
Animal Hair Allergies - Causes
Allergies are generally to be understood as an immune reaction to non-harmful factors that can in part severely burden 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 that can be measured in the blood.
Symptoms of an animal hair allergy
First symptoms of an animal hair allergy are:
- red eyes
- runny nose
- sneezing attacks
Continued contact with the animal worsens the condition and may increase the occurrence of asthma attacks characterized by an episodic severe respiratory distress with a narrowing of the airways. An animal hair allergy is usually easy to recognize because the symptoms usually occur immediately when the person in contact with the animal allergen comes into contact.
Animal hair allergies: not only with pet owners
However, many people develop an animal hair allergy without any contact with the animals. Here is a diagnosis far more difficult to make. Especially with a cat allergy is often a low allergen contact, for example, by neighbors or friends who hold a cat. Sensitization to cat hair can also occur at school or at work, as the cat allergens frequently cling to the clothes of cat friends and can be transported on.
In contrast to the classic "indoor allergies" (for example allergies to house dust mites or molds), the occurrence of animal hair allergies is not restricted to one's own four walls.
Which animals often trigger allergic reactions?
Cats: The main triggers of pet allergies are cats. Cat allergens are due to their particularly good floating properties months after the abolition of the animal in the apartment. The cat hair can be found in the suspended dust, on carpets, furniture and wallpaper. Even rooms in which the cat was never, are not free of cat allergens. Raising the awareness of cats may play a role in the sensitization, as there are differences between the allergenic structure of different cat breeds, sometimes even different cat individuals. In practical terms, this may mean that in cat allergies, not every cat has an allergic reaction.
Dogs: Even the dog, the best friend of humans, often causes an allergy, but this expresses itself less aggressive compared to the allergy to cats, ie it comes only to lesser allergy symptoms. Again, an allergy can be breed specific.
Guinea pigs: Allergies to guinea pigs are not rare and can express themselves by a relatively strong reaction. Here, the allergen is a protein molecule found in urine.
Birds: Birds can also trigger allergies through their feathers and their feces. Even bird mites can 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, especially pigeon fanciers can get an allergy, which is only partially related to the pigeons. In this case, especially located in pigeon droppings substances and certain mold fungi in the dry state is a dangerous dust, which can lead to respiratory difficulties by disturbing the taking place in the lung alveoli gas exchange ("pigeon fancier or Vogelhalterlung"). Failure to avoid further contact with the animals in this clinical picture can lead to a life-threatening condition.
How is an animal hair allergy diagnosed and treated safely?
There is a suspicion of animal hair allergy if one or more of these symptoms occurs in contact with an animal. Through skin tests and antibody detection in the blood this suspicion can be confirmed. However, a completely certain diagnosis is only made if the patient is completely symptom-free with the avoidance of the corresponding allergen. In exceptional cases, a provocation test is also carried out. The suspicious substance is applied under medical supervision to the nasal or bronchial mucous membranes.
Precautions and tips
Take note of the following precautions and tips if you, as pet owner, have an animal allergy:
- Wash your hands after each contact with the animal
- Keep cats outside
- Keep bedroom strictly animal free
- Apartment with little furniture and without carpets set up
- Wash and comb animals as often as possible
- Avoid body contact with the pet as much as possible
- Purchase vacuum cleaners with particularly efficient filter properties and vacuum daily.
For severe allergies and families with allergies, however, the strict advice, to completely dispense with a pet or abolish it. Although it is repeatedly reported that even without separation from the beloved pet, a severe animal hair allergy could be overcome, but risked the people doing a lot, as it can lead to life-threatening disease processes in case of doubt. After removal of 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, especially in the case of cat allergy, there may be an increased allergen concentration in the home for many weeks. Sometimes it is necessary in these cases to remove and repackage carpets and to give away the furniture (especially upholstered furniture). If an animal hair allergy occurs despite the avoidance of animal contact, the following instructions should be observed:
- Horsehair filled mattresses and upholstered furniture should be avoided.
- Angora wool from rabbits and goats, clothing made from alpaca wool, furs, sheepskin, textiles and carpets made of unprocessed sheep wool - even in the form of felt - as well as blankets made of camel hair.
- In case of allergy to feathers, avoid duvets; Allergic here is especially the fine dust that arises when shaking out the beds. Often, a house dust mite allergy is mistakenly assumed.
- The bedding includes washable blankets and pillows with polyester filling. The sheets should be washed frequently.
- Ask work colleagues, friends, acquaintances and relatives for possibly existing pets.
- Take off street shoes before entering the apartment.
- Avoid cigarette smoke, as the constant irritation of the respiratory tract makes it easier for allergens to attack the mucous membranes.
- Temporarily, antihistamines (spray, tablets, drops), antiallergic eye drops or decongestant nose drops can bring relief; This also applies to situations in which occasional contact with the animal allergen can not be avoided.
Severe cases of animal hair allergy
In cases of severe animal allergies, specific immunotherapy should be considered so that the victim has protection from accidental contact with the species.
Even in persons in whom the avoidance of the allergen for various reasons is impossible, the specific immunotherapy comes into question. It ensures hyposensitization of the patient by administering the allergen in increasing doses under medical supervision over a period of at least three years. As a result, the allergic symptoms disappear completely.
Eventually, however, only a better allergen tolerance occurs, which can also lead to a subjective improvement of the symptoms. The effectiveness of laser resonance therapy or raw food rich diet is not scientifically proven.