Parrots And Allergies
As a person with daily allergy problems, my physician asked me about my pet birds. He informed me that birds are the number one pet related allergy. The culprit of my sneezing and recurrent sinusitis; our eight pet birds! We have a Moluccan Cockatoo, three African Grey parrots, a Black Headed Caique, a Red Bellied Parrot, and a Parrotlet. There is a lot of white, powdery dust at our house!
Currently, there are over 15 million pet birds in the United States or about 5 million households with pet birds. It is estimated that between 10 - 15% of individuals may be allergic to animals, especially pet birds. Allergy symptoms to animals vary dramatically and may take several years to develop. The most common symptoms include sneezing, watery and itching eyes, shiners or black circles under the eyes, hives, coughing and constricting bronchial tubes, sore throat, post nasal drip, stuffy nose, and breathing difficulties. Many people endure these conditions, not realizing that they are allergy-related and that they can be controlled.
Almost invisible, allergy producing particles of feather dander and sheath dust become air borne each time your bird preens itself, shakes its body or ruffles its feathers. The dust and dander causes allergic reactions in some individuals. As part of the allergic response, these particles to escape the body's filtering mechanisms, penetrate into the lung tissue, become absorbed in the body and trigger an immune response. In addition to bird related feather dander allergies, allergic symptoms may be aggravated by dust mites, mold spores, or pollen.
Luckily, mild to moderate parrot allergy sufferers can take several steps to reduce the allergic effects of birds, other pets and other allergens. We've listed several tips on the right as an easy reference for parrot allergy sufferers.
Allergic Alveolitis, also known as bird-fanciers lung, parakeet dander pneumoconiosis and pigeon lung disease, occurs in people who are hypersensitive to feathers, feather dust, and/or avian fecal material. Characterized by inflammation of the lungs which occurs secondary to exposure to a chemical, organic dust, fungus, or mold, there are two phases of the disease. The acute phase has symptoms that include fever, chills, dyspnea, generalized myalgia, nonproductive cough, and bibasilar rales that occur 4 to 6 hours after antigen exposure. These symptoms generally resolve without any specific treatment in 1 to 3 days. In the subacute/chronic phases primary symptoms include slowly progressive dyspnea, fatigue, low-grade fever, weight loss, chronic nonproductive cough, and bibasilar crackles occurring over months or even years.
Allergic Alveolitis decreases lung capacity and causes impaired diffusion of air through the alveoli of the lungs. The prognosis is excellent in the acute phase, however, the subacute/chronic phase has a variable clinical course but outcome is usually favorable when there is no further exposure to the antigen.
Cockatoos, Cockatiels and African Grey Parrots are often referred to as Powder Down Birds. These species, unlike other hookbills, produce a significant amount of white somewhat sticky, oily powder that becomes airborne during preening and feather ruffling. While all species of pet birds produce feather dander dust, Powder Down Birds tend to produce significant amounts of an oily dust. People with Cockatoo's, Cockatiels or African Grey Parrots report that they have an oily white film of dust throughout their home. An example of the magnitude of the dust? While having our air conditioner serviced for the season, the service man was adamant that he had only seen this much dust in the furnace filter when drywall work had been completed in the home. The dust, which is sucked into the furnace air filter and duct work, is distributed throughout the house.
All birds have a variety of feathers which they naturally preen each day. Plus, all parrots with the exception of Amazon's and a few Macaws' have an Uropygial Gland near the base of their tail. Also known as a Preening Gland, the uropygial secretes an oil based substance that functions as a waterproofing agent for feathers. This unique parrot gland manufactures vitamin D precursors and also aids in keeping the skin, feathers and beak supple. Further, the secretion performs an antibacterial function. Hoookbills with a preening gland spread the slightly sticky, slightly oily on their feathers during the preening process. Unfortunately, during preening, small pieces of the feather and feather sheath are broken off and become air borne. To add to the problem, powders down birds have a unique, specialized feather which other hookbills don't have. This unique feather seems to be the major culprit of all the dust that powder down birds are notorious for.
Again, mild to moderate allergy sufferers can take numerous steps to manage their allergic response. A true bird enthusiast will review and implement the tips on the right. However, if your allergies are severe and health threatening, you may need to find a new, safe home for your bird.