Pets And Your Health
Allergies to pets can happen at any time without any apparent reason. Dogs and cats are the most likely offenders by virtue of their being in and around the home. However, any animal is potentially allergenic to persons handling it or coming into contact with its usual haunts.
The problem is caused not by the hair of the animal but by powder-fine flakes of skin, known as dander, which are present in the coat of the animal and deposited on carpets, chairs and other places where it may have lain. Individuals may find themselves sensitive to several different species of animals or conversely to a specific breed within the same species. For example, while one person may be allergic to all cats and possibly dogs, another person may be affected only by a specific breed of cat. Children, in particular, are prone to pet allergies due to their tendency to cuddle and play with their pets and, especially, to hold them close to their faces.
The usual symptoms are associated with the respiratory system in the form of hay fever, running nose, etc. but can also occur as a rash at the various points of contact. By far the most alarming symptom can be an asthma attack which may vary in strength from mild to severe. An ongoing, sporadic asthma condition is likely until the cause is identified and removed. In the case of a pet this would mean banishment from the house and may even necessitate finding it a new home. Some relief of symptoms may be gained if the pet is groomed regularly by another person and away from the house. This would have the effect of minimizing the number of loose danders which cause the allergy.
Another symptom commonly associated with pet allergies is a rash called papular urticaria. In this case, the allergy is not caused by the dander but by the fleas which inhabit the animal. The rash, if scratched, will form bumps and cause the skin to harden and darken. An effective treatment is the application of calamine lotion and avoidance of contact with the animal concerned. Regular applications of flea powder to the pet can minimize the problem.
An uncommon but very nasty condition can result from contact with birds and is called 'bird fanciers lung'. This is caused by a fungus which grows on bird droppings. Spores from the fungus are inhaled, causing the lining of the lung to become inflamed. Untreated, this condition can cause serious and permanent damage. People who work with birds are usually aware of this danger and take steps to avoid its occurrence.
Allergies to Insects
Allergies to insects can be caused by bites, stings, cast off hairs or scales. By far the most serious are those caused by bee and wasp stings. In the United States they cause more deaths than bites from venomous animals. Most people do not suffer more than minor symptoms but, for the unfortunate few, serious illness and even death can result.
Recent investigations into bee stings have produced some interesting findings. The bee, if brushed away, will leave behind both its sting and a venom sac which continues to pump venom through the barb into the victim. However, if the bee is left to withdraw the sting itself, the injection of venom is much less, resulting in minimal discomfort. Wasps have a different kind of sting mechanism resulting in the victim receiving a full dose every time.
Some people may develop a partial immunity to bee and wasp stings which can increase the more they are stung. Others may become more and more sensitive until they reach a point where they develop a large-scale reaction to stings and can die. We are not, however, talking about the unfortunate person who is stung many times by a swarm of such insects. That situation would cause serious consequences, irrespective of sensitivity.
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