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. 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.
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. Asthma symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of your reaction and the length of exposure to dander. Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness or discomfort, coughing or wheezing. Treatment includes use of an inhaler, allergy shots or antihistamines.
A collection of symptoms referred to as allergic rhinitis occur when allergens, such as bird dander, are ingested through breathing. These symptom mostly involve the nose and eyes and mimic hay fever reactions. Symptoms include itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat or skin, as well as runny nose, sneezing, teary eyes, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and headache. "Allergy shiners" may also occur, consisting of dark circles and puffiness under the eyes.
Physicians recommend avoiding avian dander to prevent allergic rhinitis, but treatment exists in the form of antihistamines and cortosteroids.
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. 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.