Animal Allergies and You
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to specific substances. Related to animals, most reactions are caused by animal proteins found in saliva, dander, and urine.
What are the Symptoms?
The earliest symptoms of an allergy include nasal stuffiness, runny nose, sneezing, red irritated eyes and hives. Workers may also develop asthma. These symptoms include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. An employee may develop severe breathing problems, and symptoms should be caught early.
When Do They Occur?
Most people working with animals develop allergic reactions within the first twelve months of exposure. Infrequently, reactions occur after several years. Initially, symptoms are present within minutes. Approximately half of the workers will have initial symptoms subside and recur three to four hours after exposure.
Which Animals are Associated with Allergic Reactions?
Since mice and rats are studied most frequently, more allergies to these animals are reported than others. However, any animal used in research can be a potential source of allergic symptoms.
What are the Chances You Will Develop an Animal Allergy?
Statistics show that one out of every three to five people who work with animals will develop allergic symptoms. One in twenty workers with allergies to animal proteins will develop asthma as a result of animal contact.
Who is at Increased Risk?
People who already have a history of allergies to other animals (such as cats and dogs) may be at higher risk of developing allergy to animals. Handling animals and cleaning cages may put people at higher risk for developing allergies.
The best strategy for reducing the likelihood of developing an allergic reaction is to minimize exposure to proteins found in dander, urine, and saliva.
- Wash your hands frequently; avoid touching your eyes and face.
- Keep animal cages clean, and clean them in dedicated areas.
- When working with animals, cover your street clothes with personal protective equipment (PPE): lab coats, gloves, and masks.
- Dispose of or remove PPE when leaving the work area.
- When possible, perform animal manipulations in a chemical fume hood, biosafety cabinet, or downdraft table.
- When not working in a hood, make sure the work area is adequately ventilated.
For any questions regarding pre-existing animal allergies or newly developed allergies along the course of your studies, please contact Occupational Medicine at 541-737-7566.