Approximately one in ten Central Europeans and one in three allergy sufferers is affected by an animal hair allergy. The most common cause is cats, followed by guinea pigs, rabbits, horses and dogs, and in some cases birds. Practically all animals with fur or hair can trigger an allergy, but the hair itself is not the cause. Instead it is caused by proteins, dander, sweat and other substances that adhere to the hair. Also, it doesn't matter whether the animal in question is a long- or short-haired breed or whether it sheds a lot of hair or just a little.
An allergic reaction is most likely to occur immediately during or after you have had direct contact with one of these animals. In this case we speak of immediate-type allergies. Typical signs include:
- a runny or blocked nose
- itching and sneezing
- itchy, irritated and watery eyes
- shortness of breath
- wheezing breath
- a feeling of constriction in the chest
Sometimes the symptoms do not appear immediately or all at the same time, but develop and increase over time. Hives (urticaria) and neurodermatitis are also sometimes triggered or aggravated by animal hair.
What are the treatment options?
"First and foremost, as with other allergies, one should avoid the allergy trigger," explains Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director at santé24. In the case of animal allergies, this essentially means having no further contact with the animal. "But it's not always easy to simply give up a beloved pet," continues Silke Schmitt Oggier. Medicines such as antihistamines or corticosteroids can alleviate the symptoms. However, it's important to consider carefully whether a long-term therapy is really justified.
At present, allergen-specific immunotherapy or desensitisation is only considered for individuals suffering from cat, dog or horse allergies, and only if moderate to severe symptoms persist despite all therapeutic and medicine-based interventions. During allergen-specific immunotherapy, the pet must be removed to another location in order to achieve the best possible results.
Tips and precautions
Unfortunately, it is not really possible to prevent an animal hair allergy. Permanent allergen exposure in the direct environment can be reduced by taking a few simple precautions, although this does not offer 100% protection against allergies:
- Wash your hands every time after you pet the animal.
- After contact with animals, clean your clothes with a clothes roller (do not use a clothes brush) or, if possible, change your clothes outside and then wash them.
- Do not allow your pet into your sleeping area. You spend a lot of time there, and allergens which pets shed in the bedroom have the greatest impact.
- Remove rugs and carpets or ensure your pet only has access to carpet-free rooms which can be wiped down with a damp cloth or sponge.
- Clean your floors and furniture regularly with a damp cloth.
Before acquiring a pet, allergy sufferers should consider potential animal allergies with all their consequences (e.g. long-term therapy or having to get rid of the beloved pet) and think carefully about the implications.