Q. What is an Allergy?
A. An allergy is an exaggerated response of our immune system to substances or particles in the environment which are either breathed into our lungs or that we come in contact with via skin or oral contact. These substances are referred to as 'allergens' and can cause varying degrees of 'allergic reaction' in our bodies. The most common (mild) reactions are sneezing, water and itchy eyes, itchy skin, and sinus or nasal congestions. More severe reactions can include difficulty breathing or even anaphylactic shock (hives, throat tightness, extreme difficulty breathing or swallowing, vomiting and abdominal cramping).
Q. Are Animal Allergies Common?
A. The most recent statistics from the National Institutes of Health reports that there are over 43 million Americans with allergies. A great percentage of people with existing (non-specific) allergies are likely to develop allergies to animals over time. Among animal care workers, 10 - 40% will develop allergies to animals and up to 10% may develop occupation-related asthma.
Q. What Are Some Specific Allergic Reactions?
A. Hives: Called urticaria, these are circumscribed, pink, often itchy raised areas on the skin. Conjunctivitis: the conjunctivas of the eyes are red, itchy, and the eyes may water. Nasal Congestion: Called rhinitis, this is experienced by sneezing, an itchy nose, and clear nasal discharge. Asthma: Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness are symptoms of asthma. Eczema: This is dermatitis, seen as flaky or scaly, itchy pink patches on the skin. Anaphylaxis: This is an extreme and sometimes life-threatening reaction, which can include hives, generalized itching, throat tightness, difficulty breathing or swallowing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramping.
Q. What Should I Do If I Experience an Allergy Symptom to Animals?
A. Rutgers faculty and staff who have acute allergic symptoms from exposure to animals at work should report these symptoms to the Rutgers Occupational Health Department. In the case of severe symptoms with difficulty breathing, have someone call an ambulance or go directly a hospital emergency room.
Q. What Can I Do To Protect Myself?
A. Wearing masks, gloves, head covers, shoe covers, gowns, safety glasses, working in biological hoods, and showering after the workday all help decrease exposure and allergic reactions. Physician-guided pre-exposure drug therapy (i.e. antihistamines) may also decrease your allergy symptoms.
If you would like further information regarding animal allergies, please call the Occupational Health Department at 848-932-8254.