Allergies to Animals: It's Nothing to Sneeze At

What is an Allergy

An allergy is the exaggerated response of your immune system to substances in the environment. These substances are called allergens and can cause sneezing, water and itchy eyes, itchy skin, sinus or nasal congestion, or more serious reactions.

How Do Animals Cause Allergies?

When we touch or work around animals, we expose our bodies to these allergens. The allergens, which we contact from animals, are called antigens and are transferred to us merely by inhaling, eating, rubbing our eyes, or touching our skin. Common animal antigens are as follows:

  1. Cats-saliva, hair, skin dander, albumin (a blood protein).
  2. Dogs-saliva, hair, skin dander, albumin.
  3. Guinea pigs-urine, skin dander, hair, saliva.
  4. Rabbits-fur protein, saliva, urine.
  5. Rats-urine, saliva, bedding, albumin.
  6. Mice-urine, albumin.
  7. Pigs-urine.
  8. In addition, gerbils, cattle, horses, sheep, deer, birds, reptiles, and fish can cause allergic reactions.Symptoms of animal allergy can occur right after exposure; or a person can become allergic after weeks, months, or years of exposure.

Are Animal Allergies Common?

The latest statistics from the National Institutes of Health report that there are 43 million Americans with allergies. A great percentage of people with existing allergies are likely to develop allergies to animals over time. Among animal care workers, 10-40% will develop allergies to animals and up to 10% may develop occupation-related asthma.

What Are Some Specific Allergic Reactions?

1. Hives: Called urticaria, these are circumscribed, pink, often itchy raised areas on the skin.
2. Conjunctivitis: The conjunctiva of the eyes are red, itchy, and the eyes may water.
3. Nasal Congestion: Called rhinitis, this is experienced by sneezing, an itchy nose, clear nasal discharge.
4. Asthma: Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness are symptoms of asthma.
5. Eczema: This is a dermatitis, seen as flaky or scaly, itchy pink patches on the skin.
6. Anaphylaxis: This is an extreme and sometimes life-threatening reaction which can include hives, generalized itching, throat tightness, difficulty breathing or swallowing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramping.What Should I Do If I Experience Allergy Symptoms to Animals?
UT Memphis faculty and staff who have acute allergic symptoms from exposure to animals at work should report these symptoms to the Vanderbilt Occupational Health Clinic. In the case of severe symptoms with difficulty breathing, report to the Emergency Room.

What Can I Do To Protect Myself?

Wearing masks, gloves, head covers, shoe covers, gowns, safety glasses, working in biological hoods, and showering after the workday all help decrease exposure and allergic reactions. Physician-guided pre-exposure drug therapy (i.e. antihistamines) may also decrease your allergy symptoms.

If you would like further information regarding animal allergies, please call the Occupational Health Clinic at 448-5630.

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Crisis Information

Information about what to do in case of various emergencies.

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Memphis, Tennessee 38163
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