The beloved house tiger, the family dog, rabbits, guinea pigs and horses – they all can cause an allergy in humans. Animal hair allergy is quite common, it is estimated that about ten percent of the population is affected. What are the triggers, what helps? Answers can be found in the guidebook.
Animal hair allergy is actually the wrong term. From a medical point of view, there is no reaction to the animal’s hair, but rather an allergic reaction to the proteins present in the saliva, sebum, dandruff, sweat and urine of animals.
Allergies to cats, rodents, dogs and horses are particularly common. At least one cat lives in almost one third of all German households. The number of allergy sufferers here is particularly high: one in ten Germans suffers from a cat allergy. Most cat allergens are found in the saliva of the animals. The pronounced care of the coat allows a lot of saliva to reach the air.
In addition to cat allergens, those of small rodents such as guinea pigs or hamsters are also particularly aggressive. But dogs, horses and birds can also trigger an animal allergy. It can happen that an affected person only reacts allergic to his own dog or only to certain dog breeds. Also combinations (cross allergy), for example dog and rodents, can occur.
Causes and triggers of animal hair allergies
Animal hair allergy is an inhalation and contact allergy. This means that the allergic reaction is triggered by inhalation of the allergens and contact with the skin.
Animal hair allergies are type I immediate reactions triggered by immunoglobulin E. The reaction therefore takes place immediately after contact with the allergens. The immunoglobulin E is produced more intensively. The antibodies adhere to the mast cells and render the allergens harmless. In doing so, they release the messenger substance histamine, which leads to inflammatory reactions in the body.
Risk factors for animal hair allergy
The reasons for animal hair allergies are not yet clear. However, it is assumed that several causes interact in sensitisation:
- Hereditary factors
- Exaggerated cleanliness (dirty hypothesis)
- environmental impacts
- Occupational material load
- Typical Symptoms of Animal Hair Allergy
- The reaction to an animal hair allergy is very different from person to person and is pronounced differently.
Acute allergy symptoms are usually reddened, watery eyes, severe sneezing attacks and a runny nose. Overall, a number of symptoms can occur in animal hair allergy, often in combination:
- watery, red or inflamed eyes
- runny nose
- sneezing fits
- allergic rhinitis with clear secretion
- skin rash (hives)
- advanced asthma bronchiale
The symptoms of animal hair allergy increase the longer you are exposed to the allergens and the more aggressive they are. For example, an animal allergy to small rodents can develop bronchial asthma after just one year. In particularly severe cases, it comes to shortness of breath and heart rhythm and circulatory disturbances, the anaphylactic shock.
This is how animal hair allergy is diagnosed
The triggering allergen is often unclear in the case of allergic symptoms. If animal hair allergy is suspected, it is advisable to consult a doctor who is also an allergologist. In the discussion with the doctor about the medical history (anamnesis) as many triggers as possible are therefore excluded. In addition, it is important to inform family members about an existing allergy.
Then the reaction to the suspected allergens is tested. Skin and laboratory tests are usually carried out for this purpose.
Skin tests for animal hair allergies
In the allergy test, also known as the “prick test”, the corresponding allergens are applied to the skin – usually on the forearm or back. The various substances are clearly marked so that they can be precisely identified in the event of a skin reaction. After application, the allergens must be placed in the deeper layers of the skin. More sensitive is the intradermal test, in which the allergenic substances are injected directly into the skin.
Laboratory test and provocation test
In case of unclear findings or infants, laboratory tests are recommended. This can determine whether the proportion of immunoglobulin E in the blood is increased. Since increased immunoglobulin E values can also indicate other diseases, positive test results alone are not sufficient for diagnosis. In the provocation test, allergens are administered directly to the mucous membrane. However, this can trigger severe allergic reactions, which is why provocation tests are only carried out as in-patient tests or in specially equipped practices.
Treatment options for animal hair allergy
As with any allergy, the best treatment for animal hair allergy is to consistently avoid the triggering allergen. It is therefore advisable to completely avoid contact with animals to which you are allergic.
When it comes to your own pet, this is usually very difficult. If the health burden becomes too great, one cannot avoid giving away the animal. If an allergy, asthma or neurodermatitis already exists in the family, it is advisable to refrain completely from buying a pet in households with babies or small children. This is especially true for cats and rodents.
Frequently, however, some changes in the living environment already lead to a reduction in the complaints caused by animal hair allergy:
- Keep at least one room of the apartment (e.g. bedroom or children’s room) completely free of animals.
- If possible, brush the animal regularly outside the home.
- Vacuum and brush textiles regularly and wash them. Special vacuum cleaners with filters reduce the concentration of allergenic substances in the air.
- Ventilate apartment frequently
- Give up smoking
- Avoid hidden animal hairs
- If you are allergic to animal hair, you should also look out for animal hair that can be “hidden” in everyday products. These include, for example, horsehair mattresses, brushes and (cosmetic) brushes, fur coats, animal hair carpets, angora wool or upholstery fillings.
Hyposensitization in Animal Hair Allergy
The principle of hyposensitization (specific immunotherapy) is based on the habituation to the triggering allergen, so it is a kind of allergy vaccination. For this purpose, small doses of the allergen are regularly injected over a fixed period of time, usually several years. This increases the tolerance limit and reduces the allergic reaction.
However, it is not recommended that infants, pregnant women and people with functional disorders of the organs start hyposensitizing.
In addition to allergic reactions, severe side effects such as anaphylactic shock can rarely occur. This is why the treatment is always carried out under medical supervision. It is also necessary to stay in the practice for at least half an hour after the injection.
Which medications help against animal hair allergy?
Various medications such as antihistamines and cortisone preparations are suitable for alleviating the symptoms.
Antihistamines counteract the formation of the messenger substance histamine and thus reduce the inflammatory reaction in the body. Possible side effects are fatigue and cardiac arrhythmia.
Cortisone has an anti-inflammatory and decongestant effect. It can be taken, injected or used as a nasal spray. Since cortisone increases the risk of bacterial infections and has a number of other side effects, cortisone preparations are only suitable in small doses and for short-term use during acute phases.