Animal hair allergy: Don’t blame the fur

The animal hair allergy is widespread — after pollen and house dust mites it is the most frequent allergy trigger. The name is misleading because it is not a reaction to the hair itself.

What is an animal (hair) allergy?

With an animal (hair) allergy, the body reacts hypersensitively to materials of the four-legged friend. In fact, it is not the animal hair itself that causes allergic reactions. More precisely, it is the animal proteins that cause complaints in many people. These proteins come from the skin, dandruff, urine or saliva of certain animals.

The colloquial term animal hair allergy is likely to persist because the allergens (proteins) adhere to the hairs and thus spread. They enter the eyes, nose and bronchi through the air and cause allergic reactions such as breathing difficulties. In addition, the direct contact when cuddling and stroking the animal can also lead to skin redness and rashes.

Who is affected?

Not only pet owners are affected by the allergy. Even people who have a lot of professional contact with animals, such as veterinarians, carers or farm workers, often experience severe symptoms.

Symptoms of an animal (hair) allergy?

Cat, the allergy trigger No. 1

Cat, the allergy trigger No. 1 picture

The most common type of allergy is to cats. For those affected discomfort can be caused even in places where a cat only was before. Their allergens are mainly found in their saliva and urine and adhere to the coat after the well-known cat wash. However, even naked cats are not a safe solution for allergy sufferers, as they also release allergens via the skin scales. Cat allergy sufferers usually experience their symptoms independently of the breed. In addition to cats, guinea pigs can also cause severe allergic reactions. Dogs and horses are also frequent triggers, but they often cause less severe symptoms. Even birds have allergenic potential. In these birds, the protein substances are found in feathers and faeces. Unfortunately, allergen-free animals do not exist, even if special breeds (e. g. Labradoodles) promise something else.

Contrary to popular belief, the length of animal hair is not directly related to allergen exposure. Shorthair breeds are therefore not necessarily more suitable for allergy sufferers.

Diagnosis and therapy

Even people who do not (want to) have pets often suffer from animal allergens because they are spread by people who come into contact with the animals. An exact diagnosis and possible therapy is therefore not only important for passionate animal lovers. If an animal hair allergy is suspected, the exact triggers can be determined by means of a blood test. If these are known, a targeted therapy is possible.

If the test has confirmed the allergy, it is advisable to avoid the contact to the respective animal as far as possible. This is a measure that is particularly difficult for most pet owners. Under no circumstances should the animals enter the bedroom.

If the avoidance is not possible, should be discussed with the treating physician about therapy options. Here it is necessary to distinguish between long-term treatments (e.g. specific immunotherapy or hyposensitisation) and short-term symptomatic therapies. If left untreated, allergic symptoms can lead to more serious diseases such as chronic asthma.

Medically reviewed

This article has been examined for medical correctness by Nora Zulehner, PhD.

Posted by Nicole Dopler on 4/3/2019

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