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The term animal hair allergy is actually not quite correct. Because affected people do not react directly to animal hair, but to certain proteins that are found in the skin flakes, sebum, saliva, feces or urine and which ultimately adhere to the animal's hair. These smallest particles are in the air. In a person who is sensitized to these substances, they can lead to an allergic reaction.
The allergens are inhaled, hit the mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, throat and bronchial tubes and cause symptoms such as sneezing, reddening of the eyes, swollen eyes, tears in the eyes, runny nose or conjunctivitis. More serious symptoms, including asthma or anaphylaxis, are also possible.
Allergy: general definition
The trigger for an animal hair allergy does not necessarily have to be your own pet. Visiting friends who have a cat in their apartment is just as possible as chatting with a friend who still has a few dog or cat hairs stuck to their clothes. For example, a dog owner can wear an item of clothing that still has dog hair on it at a colleague's work to trigger an allergic reaction. The amount of allergens that lead to an allergic reaction depends on the person concerned. A few hairs are enough for one, and another only reacts allergically if he stays with an animal for a long time.
An allergy is an overreaction to certain substances, here called allergens, which are normally harmless. A so-called antigen-antibody reaction takes place in the body. In the specific immune system, the B cells (B lymphocytes) are primarily concerned with producing antibodies. These are large molecules, consisting of proteins that are targeted at specific antigens. You can bond with them to trigger an immune response. In the case of animal hair allergy, the allergens are the antigens, that is, the allergy-causing substances adhering to the hair of the animals.
In the case of allergy, the antigen-antibody reaction is followed by an excessive immune response. The body overreacts, so to speak. In the worst case, this can lead to anaphylactic shock. Such a shock is the most severe allergic reaction, in which the body can usually react immediately after allergen contact with local skin reaction, generalized skin and mucous membrane reaction, pulse increase, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness up to cardiovascular and respiratory arrest. Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening.
Allergens are antigens that trigger the allergy. With hay fever, these are the most varied types of pollen, with animal hair allergy, these are animal epithelia.
There are four different types of allergens. These are inhalation allergens, such as pollen, mold and animal hair. There are also ingestion allergens, also called food allergens. Examples include strawberries, pineapple, nuts and cheese.
Ointments, jewelry and latex house contact allergens. Injection allergens include bee and snake venom, daisies (e.g. red coneflower), local anesthetics (e.g. procain) or X-ray contrast agents.
Four types of allergic reactions
Depending on the immune response, a distinction is made between four different reaction types. Type I (e.g. pollen and animal hair allergy) and Type IV (e.g. nickel allergy) are most common.
The type I allergic reaction (immediate type) triggers a reaction relatively quickly, sometimes within seconds. With animal hair allergy, for example, this is immediate itching or watery eyes. Those suffering from hay fever know the sudden sneezing fits on a bike tour in the countryside.
With the allergic reaction type II (cytotoxic type), the symptoms only appear after hours or even days.
The allergic reaction of type III (immune complex type) becomes noticeable after about six to eight hours. An example of this is drug allergy. Type IV (late type) reacts approximately one to three days after antigen contact, which is the case with contact allergies such as nickel allergy.
Triggers for animal hair allergies
The animals that most commonly trigger animal hair allergies are cats, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, rabbits and dogs. But allergies to horses, cows and birds are also possible.
Allergy to cat hair / cat allergy
The cat allergen is the most potent. This can persist in apartments for a long time, even if the cat has long since ceased to live there. The cat's allergen is also transported into rooms without a cat ever having to be there. The cat allergy is not an allergy to the hair itself, but to proteins in saliva and tear fluid. By licking the animals, these allergens stick to the fur.
Cat allergens are the smallest items that get stuck in the apartment dust due to their good floating properties and can hardly be eliminated by cleaning the house and vacuuming. Cat hair that sticks to clothing is carried everywhere and can trigger an allergy in this way.
Animal allergy to cats is an allergy of the immediate type. So contact with cat hair can cause an allergic reaction within seconds and minutes. A breed-specific sensitization, such as a pure allergy to Angora cats, is possible.
Dog hair is moderately allergenic. Here too, it is not the hair that is the allergen, but the proteins from sebum, saliva, faeces and urine that get stuck in the fur and can ultimately trigger animal hair allergy.
Allergy to rodents
Rodents like guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits and mice have a high potential to cause allergies. The allergen, also here a protein that sticks to the fur, hovers in the air and is transferred to clothing.
Horse hair allergy
In horses, not only the protein substances are the cause of an animal hair allergy, but also animals, such as mites, that are in the horse's hair. Molds and their spores in the animal's fur can also cause allergic reactions.
Feathers and bird droppings, but also bird mites can trigger allergies. This happens either through direct contact or by cleaning bird cages. The animal hair allergy occurs immediately afterwards. Another variant is the bird holder lung. This is a type II allergy, in which the symptoms start hours or days after contact.
The bird holder lung is a relatively common disease in pigeon breeders. Affected people suffer from fever, chills, coughing, nausea and shortness of breath up to a life-threatening condition. The only help here is to avoid any exposure to the birds.
Usually, the first typical symptoms of an animal hair allergy are sneezing fits with watery secretions from the nose, similar to a pollen allergy. Swelling of the mucous membranes, together with a stuffy nose, is also possible. Itchy, watery eyes, as an expression of conjunctivitis, are also common.
Through contact with the animals, the skin reacts with hives (hives) or eczema. A scratchy, itchy feeling in the throat, cough and asthma attacks up to shortness of breath are among the possible symptoms of an animal hair allergy.
The symptoms of the bird holder lung do not set in immediately, but only after hours or even days. Unfortunately, the complaints are usually very pronounced. Typical signs of an animal hair allergy are paired with severe breathing disorders up to pneumonia (pneumonia).
In addition, there are flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue and body aches, later loss of appetite and weight loss. The bird holder lung, an exogenous allergic alveolitis, (inflammatory reaction of the alveoli) is a life-threatening disease that requires immediate separation from the birds and medical attention.
As part of a detailed medical history, the patient is asked about the frequency and type of symptoms. An allergy test usually follows. In the so-called prick test, allergen extracts are applied in drop form to the forearm and then these areas are lightly scratched with a needle.
An allergic reaction occurs after about fifteen to twenty minutes. In addition, a blood test helps to confirm the diagnosis. The blood is examined for antibodies against certain allergens. In a so-called provocation test, the allergen is introduced into the nose, which can possibly trigger a massive allergic reaction. This test is carried out only under medical observation.
Tips and help for allergies to animal hair
In the case of an allergy, immediate separation from the animal is usually recommended as an absolutely necessary measure. For many pet owners, however, it is hard to imagine separating from their beloved pet.
If the symptoms have not yet progressed far, other measures can first be used to try to get the allergy under control. It is important to ensure thorough hygiene in the household. The floors should be wiped daily, carpets best removed. All objects that easily stick to dust, such as dried flowers or soft toys, are banished from the apartment.
The pet must not have access to the bedroom. Hands must be washed after each contact with the four-legged friend. The hairy roommate should not have a place to sleep on the sofa and the furniture should be wiped as often as possible. Washing or combing the pet is best done by people who are not allergic to animals. If all of this does not help, unfortunately the animal must be removed from the home environment.
Animal allergy treatment
Conventional medicine prescribes antihistamines in spray, drop or tablet form in the case of an animal hair allergy. In addition, decongestant nasal sprays, cortisone and beta-sympathomimetics are used.
Hyposensitization can only be used for allergies of the "immediate type". The treatment of animal hair allergy by desensitization takes about three to five years and can be carried out from the age of five. The allergen is administered as an injection, with increasing intensity. Those affected have to spend half an hour in the doctor's office for follow-up after each treatment in order to be able to get medical help immediately in the event of an allergic reaction.
With hyposensitization, the body is supposed to get used to the slowly increasing gifts of the allergen. The injection is made subcutaneously (under the skin) at regular intervals. Before any treatment, all reactions to the therapy must be communicated to the doctor so that the dose may be reduced. The allergen should be avoided during the entire desensitization period. Contraindications to hyposensitization include immunodeficiency, severe asthma, autoimmune disease, cancer, pregnancy, beta-blockers and medications that weaken the immune system.
Another type of hyposensitization is sublingual use. The allergens are placed in diluted solutions under the tongue as drops. This is mainly used in children. Here, too, the patient has to stay in the doctor's office for a while after the application for observation. If people are allergic to only one or two substances, this therapy can be very promising.
After the hyposensitization has been completed, a provocation test is usually carried out to determine the effectiveness of the therapy. Desensitization does not treat the body's general allergy, but tries to alleviate or even eliminate a certain allergy, for example, animal hair allergy.
Naturopathy for animal hair allergy
In naturopathy, the treatment of causes is in the foreground. An attempt is made to act on the trigger (s) for the animal hair allergy using suitable means. Allergy readiness can be inherited and rest in the body without showing any symptoms.
After many years of living with a cat, symptoms such as sneezing, itching, tears in the eyes and coughing suddenly set in. Nobody immediately thinks of an animal hair allergy, when the beloved pet has belonged to the family for so long. However, this is quite possible. Allergy preparedness has long been present and the allergy appears completely spontaneously.
The cause of the apparently sudden allergy may be in the intestine. The now widely cited leaky gut syndrome can well be a reason for an allergy. The mucous membrane in the intestine has changed so that the bacterial flora is no longer able to distinguish good from bad and therefore foreign substances creep into the body that are normally destroyed by the immune system. Extensive stool diagnostics provide information here. Subsequently, attempts are often made to restore a healthy balance with individual intestinal rehabilitation, which is supposed to build up the intestinal flora.
Allergy sufferers, including animal hair allergy sufferers, are mostly people who can hardly distinguish themselves. The skin, as a mirror of the soul, then shows changes that reflect the inner state of the sick person to the outside. In naturopathy, the soul of the person is also involved in the treatment.
An individual Bach flower mix is part of the therapy of those affected. Another method in the treatment of allergies is bioresonance therapy. The bioresonance device reverses the pathological electromagnetic vibrations of the body into healthy, changed vibrations and supplies them to the organism.
Naturopathic therapy often begins with detoxification. With the help of certain agents from phytotherapy, orthomolecular therapy or complex homeopathy, the body is stimulated to get rid of stored slags and poisons. This “cleaning” of the organism provides a good starting point for the subsequent individual therapy, for example in the form of classic homeopathy or the use of the Schüssler salts.
Autologous blood therapy is also a common procedure for allergies. Here, as with most naturopathic treatment methods, it is not the symptom that is treated, but the general willingness to allergy in the body. As the name suggests, autologous blood therapy returns the patient's “own” blood to the body. So he is confronted with a small amount of his own blood, as if a foreign substance had entered. As a result, a cascade of immune reactions takes place in the body, which can minimize the excessive reaction to the allergens or even make them disappear during the course of therapy.
When treating an animal hair allergy in naturopathy, the psychosomatic background of the disease is usually included in the therapy. Thus, the allergy in naturopathic thought patterns represents a constant struggle for life, which is not, however, aggressively conducted outwards and with the environment, but defensively inwards, with oneself. (sw)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- German Allergy and Asthma Association: Animal hair allergy (accessed: July 31, 2019), daab.de
- Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Health and the Environment (GmbH): Animal hair allergy (access: July 31, 2019), allergieinformationsdienst.de
- European Center of Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF Foundation): Animal hair allergy (accessed: July 31, 2019), ecarf.org
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Pet Allergy (access: July 31, 2019), acaai.org
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats? (Access: July 31, 2019), aafa.org
- Mayo Clinic: Pet allergy (access: July 31, 2019), mayoclinic.org
- Asthma UK: Animals, pets and asthma (access: 31.07.2019), asthma.org.uk
ICD codes for this disease: J30ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.