If you have fur allergy, you respond to allergenic substances that get stuck in the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or lungs. The substances usually come from the animal’s saliva, urine or sebaceous glands but also fur. Most people who become allergic to fur animals get their first problems in childhood and adolescence.
The allergic disorders often decrease with age. It is not entirely clear why fur allergy starts, but it can be partly hereditary. The environment can also be important.
If you have fur allergy, it is common
- Runny nose
- itchy and red eyes
- nasal congestion.
Fur allergy people have a greatly increased risk of developing asthma and trachea symptoms. For example, cat allergic children develop asthma. This leads to the typical asthma symptoms of shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness and mucus. It is important to treat all the symptoms to get good relief.
Some people can get hives on direct contact with the animal, for example if they pat it or get licked. The rashes itch and resemble mosquito bites.
Severe fur allergy can cause severe persistent asthma, but also troublesome permanent nasal congestion.
An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Most allergens are egg whites. Because fur allergy is widely distributed in society, many children in preschool and school are exposed to them. This means that children who are allergic often get worse during school terms. Children who are allergic can have a constant inflammation of the mucous membranes that can cause fatigue and more prolonged colds. Continuous nasal congestion can cause inhalation of more allergen directly to the trachea, and this results in asthma associated with colds or exertion.
In principle, allergies can develop at any time during life, but often the allergic problems decrease over the years.
What can I do for myself?
Avoid contact with animals that you are allergic to and do not have fur at home. A mild pollen allergy , also called hay fever, can in the worst case develop into severe asthma.
If you have mild eye or nose problems, you can start by purchasing non-prescription antihistamine tablets at pharmacies and supplement with prescription eye drops if needed. Some preservatives that may be present in eye drops may discolour soft contact lenses. Therefore, you should remove the lenses before taking such eye drops, and do not insert them again until after 10-30 minutes. Since it may vary between different medicines, you should ask a pharmacist how long you should wait to insert the lenses. There are also eye drops without preservatives that you can use simultaneously with lenses.
If you are especially stuffy in the nose, it may be good to use nasal spray with cortisone that helps against the sniff. It takes a few days before the cortisone spray in the nose gives full effect.
So-called cold sprays, such as Nezeril, work only temporarily against allergic nasal disorders and, if used longer than recommended, may exacerbate the symptoms. You may need to use antihistamine tablets, eye drops and cortisone nasal spray at the same time to get rid of the hassles.
Unless prescription drugs do not help, consult a doctor. There are prescription drugs that the doctor can prescribe.
1. Drug treatment before contact with fur animals
Many fur allergy sufferers are better off taking antihistamine for a few hours before, for example, going home to someone who has fur animals.
If you have asthma due to fur allergy, you may also need to inhale extra cortisone both before you meet fur animals and a few days after. It is better than just taking bronchodilator drugs that help temporarily but which may cause you to expose yourself more than you can tolerate. It may be important to discuss this particular part of your treatment with your doctor.
2. Treatment with allergy vaccination
Sometimes, you can get a great deal of trouble from your allergy despite preventative measures and medicines. Then you can get allergy vaccination, also called allergen immunotherapy.
First you get a syringe once a week for about seven weeks and then more and more rarely, a syringe every eight weeks. The treatment lasts for about four years and usually makes you accustomed to and becomes less sensitive to the allergenic substance. Allergy vaccination is most commonly used in severe pollen allergy, but also in cat or mite allergy .
3. Can the symptoms be due to something other than allergy?
The nasal congestion and runny nose can sometimes be because you are hypersensitive in the mucous membranes of the nose. Then you get the trouble of strong scents such as paint, perfume and exhaust gases and get similar symptoms as in allergy. Also blown and cold can cause trouble. But allergy tests show no antibodies. You can treat both this type of nasal disease and allergic cough with nasal spray containing cortisone. Sometimes nasal polyps can cause you problems similar to allergies. Usually you get stuffy in the nose.
You can have asthma without being allergic. Then you will have asthma problems, for example if you exert yourself, if you get respiratory infections or are exposed to strong scents or tobacco smoke. Some who have asthma suffer from some medicines. It may be heart and blood pressure medications from the beta-blocker group, pain tablets containing acetylsalicylic acid, or anti-inflammatory painkillers, so-called NSAIDs or cox inhibitors.
What is allergy?
Allergy means that you are hypersensitive to any substance. The substance is called an allergen. It is an egg white substance that is completely harmless to most, but that causes some people to have allergic problems.
In those who are prone to allergies, the body can begin to produce allergy antibodies, called IgE. IgE antibodies can be formed against many different substances, for example against the cat allergy that is found everywhere in our environment, both in homes and schools.
The antibodies attach to the surface of cells in the body that contain histamine and other irritants. When the allergenic substance enters the body, it sticks to the antibodies and causes the cells to release the irritating substances. These substances lead to the allergic reaction: runny nose, sneezing, itching of the nose and eyes, asthma.
It is not entirely clear why some people become allergic, but the risk is greater if someone in the family is allergic. In addition, the environment you live in can affect the risk of allergy.
Fur allergy is common
Most people who become allergic to fur animals already have problems as children or teenagers. The small allergenic substances emitted by fur animals can swirl around in the air and get trapped in the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs. If you are allergic, this leads to an allergic reaction which causes you to suffer from, for example, sneezing, itching of the eyes or asthma.
Cat, dog and horse are the animals that we in Sweden most often become allergic to. Almost after birch pollen, cats are the most common cause of allergy with respiratory problems. Just over one in ten Swedes are allergic to cats. Allergy to small animals such as guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, hamsters can cause both the person who has such pets himself and those who work with the animals in his profession, for example laboratory staff. Farmers become allergic to cows.
Most people react primarily when they meet fur animals indoors, but reaction can also take place outdoors.
If you have become allergic to a fur animal, there is an increased risk of developing allergies to other fur animals as well.
Some substances cause allergy problems
Many fur allergy sufferers get more trouble when they come in contact with dogs and cats with long and thick fur, compared to when they come in contact with short-haired animals. This is because larger amounts of allergen can be collected in the dense coat than in a short coat. However, some of the allergens come from allergy-causing substances found in the animal’s saliva or that form in their sebaceous glands. There are no allergy-proof fur animals.
Pet owners can spread the fur allergy
Even though you do not have a fur animal in your own home, you can still come in contact with the fur animal allergy. There are sometimes quite high levels of allergenic substances from cats and dogs in schools, on buses, in hotels and in public places even though no cats or dogs have been there. The explanation is that the allergenic substances easily get stuck in the owners’ clothing and accompany them to the animal-free premises.
Is fur allergy preventable?
Persons with strong heredity for fur allergy or people who have already developed fur allergy should not have fur animals at home.
In recent years, there have been scientific studies suggesting that fur allergy in some cases can be counteracted if you grow up with fur animals. However, the studies are contradictory and there is still insufficient knowledge to understand how this could be explained. For example, some studies show that children growing up on farms have a reduced risk of having allergies later in life. The explanation is probably not that contact with fur animals protects against allergies. Instead, when you grow up in the country, the immune system is stimulated by other substances in a way that protects against allergies. These may, for example, be substances that come from bacteria, so-called endotoxins.
Investigations and Studies
It is important that you tell us about your allergy problems as extensively as possible so that the doctor can form an idea of how much you have and what causes the problems. You should also tell your doctor if you experience any discomfort on some special occasions, such as certain times of the day or if you are staying in any particular environment. Fur allergies, for example, are often dust-sensitive. Sometimes you can also do one or more of these tests:
- RAST test
- pulmonary function testing.
Dot testing means that a drop of the allergenic substance is placed on the inside of the forearm. Then, the person doing the examination gently pushes a blunt needle through the drop so that the allergen is introduced into the skin. If you are allergic to the substance, redness and small swelling occur, much like a mosquito bite. After 15 minutes, the redness is measured and drawn off. Although the examination involves a small stick in the skin, few find the dot test uncomfortable.
The advantage of dot testing is that you get a quick message. One disadvantage is that you have to take a break with some allergy medication several days before the test. Otherwise there is a risk that the result will be incorrect. The test does not tell you that you have an allergy that causes symptoms, but only shows that you have allergy antibodies to a certain substance.
The RAST test is a blood test to check if you have allergy antibodies to a particular substance. You can be tested for allergies to significantly more substances using RAST tests than with dot tests and the test results are not affected by using allergy drugs. Nor does the RAST test say anything about the problems you have with the allergy-causing substance. The test response only shows that you have allergy antibodies in the blood for a certain substance. The doctor evaluates the result along with what you have told about your complaints.
Phadiatop is a RAST test that examines whether you have IgE antibodies to any of the ten most common respiratory allergens and can show whether or not you have allergy antibodies. If you have allergy antibodies in your blood, the lab can go ahead and find out exactly which of the allergenic substances in Phadiatop you have antibodies against.
Pulmonary function tests
If the problems you have may be indicative of asthma, you should do a lung function test. The simplest measurement is done with a so-called PEF meter. PEF is an abbreviation for Peak Expiratory Flow, which means maximum airflow during exhalation. When you measure your PEF value, you blow as strongly as possible into a tube that leads into a meter. The meter records the air flow. Because the trachea is narrow in asthma, the airflow becomes smaller and the PEF value is lower in untreated or insufficiently treated asthma.
Specialist clinics and most health centers also have more advanced equipment, such as a spirometer, to control how the lungs work. In the study, called spirometry, you get blown in different ways in a meter connected to a computer program. The study provides more information compared to PEF measurements.
After a first spirometry, you often inhale a drug that dilates the trachea. Then the test is repeated after a quarter. If you get significantly better results after taking this medicine it may indicate that you have asthma.
Lung function often varies from day to day when you have asthma. Therefore, it may be good to measure your lung function values at home with a PEF meter for a period of time. At the same time, a diary can be kept about medication, contact with fur animals and other circumstances that can affect the symptoms.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
If you are pregnant or breast-feeding you can use eye drops, cortisone nasal spray and some antihistamine tablets. The pharmacy staff can advise, but if you have any doubts, contact your doctor. If you have asthma problems and are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is important that you do not stop your asthma treatment. You should then consult your doctor to discuss the medication.