Keeping birds as pets may seem like a harmless hobby, but allergies to bird feather dander and bird fecal matter present health risks in the form of allergies 4. While more people develop allergies to cats and dogs, allergic reaction to birds is commonplace. These allergies rarely develop into anything dangerous or produce deadly symptoms, and treatment normally consists of medication prescribed by a medical professional. Symptoms of an avian allergy include asthma, allergic rhinitis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis 3.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Asthma occurs when airways narrow and swell as a result of a trigger. According to the Mayo Clinic, a common trigger is pet dander, including exposure to bird feathers 2. Asthma symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of your reaction and the length of exposure to dander 2. Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness or discomfort, coughing or wheezing. Treatment includes use of an inhaler, allergy shots or antihistamines.
- Asthma occurs when airways narrow and swell as a result of a trigger.
- Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness or discomfort, coughing or wheezing.
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A collection of symptoms referred to as allergic rhinitis occur when allergens, such as bird dander, are ingested through breathing 3. These symptom mostly involve the nose and eyes and mimic hay fever reactions. Symptoms include:
- itchy nose
- throat or skin
- as well as runny nose
- teary eyes
- sore throat
"Allergy shiners" may also occur, consisting of dark circles and puffiness under the eyes.
Hypersensitivy pneumonitis, also called allergic alveolitis, occurs from repeated and prolonged exposure to feathers, droppings and feather dust from birds and birdhouses. The continuous inhalation of bird dander can provoke asthma–like symptoms and a decline in lung capacity in humans 2. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis may also be referred to as bird-fancier’s lung. Symptoms include fatigue, a loss of energy, and progressive shortness of breath.
If you suspect bird-fancier's lung has developed, consult a physician. Scar tissue may develop in the lungs, and fatal cases have been reported.
- Hypersensitivy pneumonitis, also called allergic alveolitis, occurs from repeated and prolonged exposure to feathers, droppings and feather dust from birds and birdhouses.
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- HealthGuidance: When Bird Allergy Flies Your Way
- The Mayo Clinic: Asthma
- Medline Plus: Allergic rhinitis
- GulfMD: Bird Allergies
- Kenyabirdwatching.com: Bird Allergy Symptoms
- Quirt J, Hildebrand KJ, Mazza J, Noya F, Kim H. Asthma. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018;14(Suppl 2):50. Published 2018 Sep 12. doi:10.1186/s13223-018-0279-0
- Chan SK, Leung DYM. Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018;10(2):97–105. doi:10.4168/aair.2018.10.2.97
- Gergen PJ, Mitchell HE, Calatroni A, et al. Sensitization and exposure to pets: The effect on asthma morbidity in the US population. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018;6(1):101-107.e2.doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2017.05.019
- Milanzi EB, Koppelman GH, Smit HA, et al. Role of timing of exposure to pets and dampness or mould on asthma and sensitization in adolescence. Clin Exp Allergy. 2019;49(10):1352-1361.doi:10.1111/cea.13471
- Mendy A, Wilkerson J, Salo PM, Cohn RD, Zeldin DC, Thorne PS. Exposure and sensitization to pets modify endotoxin association with asthma and wheeze. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018;6(6):2006-2013.e4.doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2018.04.009
- Hon KL, Tsang KYC, Pong NHH, Leung TF. Relevance of Cat and Dog Sensitization by Skin Prick Testing in Childhood Eczema and Asthma. Curr Pediatr Rev. 2017;13(2):120-125.doi:10.2174/1573396313666170615085018
- Ling M, Long AA. Pet dander and difficult-to-control asthma: Therapeutic options. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2010;31(5):385-91.
- Williams AA, Cohn JR, Fung SM, Padams P. The efficacy of allergen immunotherapy with cat dander in reducing symptoms in clinical practice. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:324207. doi:10.1155/2013/324207
- Sublett JL. Effectiveness of air filters and air cleaners in allergic respiratory diseases: a review of the recent literature. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011;11(5):395–402. doi:10.1007/s11882-011-0208-5
- Dilley MA, Phipatanakul W. Environmental control measures for the management of atopy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2017;118(2):154–160. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2015.12.029
- Nicholas CE, Wegienka GR, Havstad SL, Zoratti EM, Ownby DR, Johnson CC. Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2011;25(4):252–256. doi:10.2500/ajra.2011.25.3606
- Kelly LA, Erwin EA, Platts-Mills TA. The indoor air and asthma: the role of cat allergens. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2012;18(1):29–34. doi:10.1097/MCP.0b013e32834db10d
Nicki Wolf has been writing health and human interest articles since 1986. Her work has been published at various cooking and nutrition websites. Wolf has an extensive background in medical/nutrition writing and online content development in the nonprofit arena. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Temple University.