Chickens, like many other animals, can provoke allergic responses from some people. According to National Jewish Health, the discarded skin cells, urine, and saliva of feathered animals can produce symptoms that include itchy eyes, rashes, and a runny nose. Chicken excrement can also cause allergic reactions in some patients.
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In addition, live chicken allergies can make the symptoms of conditions like rhinitis, asthma, and eczema worse.
Although there are no statistics available to show how many people have bird allergies, we know that millions of people are allergic to animals. For example, figures provided by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American indicate that about 10 million people are allergic to cats.
The best way to cope with an allergy to live chickens is to avoid all contact with the birds.
How Allergies Work
The immune system of a person with an allergy to live chickens or other animals reacts to an “invasion” of foreign particles (such as chicken skin cells or saliva) by generating antibodies called IgE. IgE antibodies interact with the allergen (the substance causing the reaction) and with the body’s immune cells. These immune cells, called mast cells, release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals, which produce allergy symptoms.
In most cases, a chicken allergy develops during childhood. However, it is possible to develop the allergy as an adult. In some cases, allergies develop only after repeated exposure to the birds. The most likely routes for live chicken allergens to enter the body are inhalation through the nose and direct skin contact.
Managing and Treating Chicken Allergies
The best way to cope with an allergy to live chickens is to avoid all contact with the birds. If that is impossible, an allergist or other specialist can advise you about ways to relieve your symptoms. The allergist may recommend medications, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, or corticosteroids. Minimize contact with the airborne particles that trigger chicken allergies by wearing a mask or respirator and protective clothing when working with the animals.
The symptoms of animal allergies may also be significantly reduced after a course of immunotherapy or allergy shots to build up your resistance to the allergen. This approach is best for achieving long-term relief of allergy symptoms caused by a well-identified allergen.
About the Author
Boyan Hadjiev, MD, has been a practicing physician for five years. He is double board certified in Internal Medicine, (2003), and Allergy and Immunology, (2005).
Dr. Hadjiev graduated from University of Michigan with a BA in biology and an MD from Cleveland Clinic-Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.