Allergies to birds, usually triggered by exposure to feathers and droppings, can affect the eyes, skin and respiratory system. But many bird lovers don't realize that they're allergic to their pets. Symptoms can take years to develop, and a bird owner who develops a rash may connect it to something else. Frequently, the allergy is discovered only after additional symptoms, such as eye irritation or breathing problems, have developed.
It's possible to have a bird allergy but show no signs of it for a long time, as a certain amount of exposure is needed before symptoms surface. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that it may take as long as two years. But once someone reaches her allergen threshold -- perhaps after bringing another bird home or getting a job that involves handling birds -- she will experience a reaction when she touches or is close to a bird.
Feathers and droppings contain proteins to which some people react. Microscopic particles in bird waste dry and enter the atmosphere, where they can be inhaled. Handling birds can also cause a reaction, according to the Mayo Clinic. Touching feathers or waste products can trigger allergic skin irritation. Histamine chemicals released in response to the allergens initiate the inflammation and other symptoms.
After someone has reached his threshold, skin problems may be immediate or delayed a day or two after exposure, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Histamine-induced inflammation can make skin red, warm, swollen and itchy. Hives or blisters may form. Additional allergy symptoms may include itchy, watery eyes, coughing, sneezing and runny and stuffy nose. The Mayo Clinic points out that those with asthma may have worse breathing problems.
Because bird allergies can take so long to develop, it's easy to miss the connection. Sometimes the symptoms are mistaken for an allergy to dust mites and mold, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. To identify the cause of a skin rash, physicians commonly do skin and blood tests. They may also advise patients to remove their birds temporarily to see if symptoms disappear.
Those with bird allergies are frequently allergic to down pillows, comforters and clothing, as well, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Allergic reactions to these items can help confirm a diagnosis. According to the National Institutes of Health, some people also have allergic reactions to eggs and poultry.