Studies have found that 10% of the general population and over 40% of all allergy sufferers have some sort of allergic reaction to animals.
Contrary to popular belief the major cause of allergic reactions to dogs and cats is not their hair or fur, but what's underneath it. It is the dander or old skin scales, similar to, but much smaller than dandruff from the human scalp, which are constantly shed into the environment. Animal dander is extremely light weight and tiny in size and can stay airborne unseen for hours. The dander will eventually cling to everything including furniture and clothes and if an animal is present for a long time the dander will permeate the whole house. Older animals produce more dander than young ones because their skin is drier. Birds also produce a feather dust which has a similar effect.
Other sources of animal allergens
Proteins secreted by oil glands in an animal's skin and present in their saliva can also cause an allergic reactions.These allergens are also found in their urine. During grooming the allergen from these sebaceous glands is deposited with the saliva on the animal's fur, when it dries, it flakes off and is released into the air.
Allergic reactions can occur without physical contact
Unfortunately, handling the animal is not a necessary prerequisite to having an allergic reaction. If an animal has been in a home for even a few weeks, there will be enough dander in the air to cause an allergic reaction. The animal dander sticks to our clothing and personal belongings and is easily transported wherever we go. This makes it very hard to control.
Symptoms of animal allergy
The proteins in the animal dander cause the body to produce histamines, which can result in itchy eyes, wheezy breathing and a rash. However before blaming your pet you should get an allergy test as you could be allergic to any number of things.
One of the first things you should do is limit the rooms in your house where your pet has access and always keep the bedroom door shut. Shampoo your pet and wash their bedding frequently. Replace carpets with wood or tile flooring and use a vacuum cleaner regularly with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. You should also consider buying a portable HEPA filter. Finally always wash your hands after stroking or playing with the animal.
Kate Waters is a fitness and nutrition expert and writer. For more information and resources see http://health-and-fitness-it-is.com