While horses may not be the first animal you think of when it comes to allergies, you can, in fact, be allergic to them.
Similar to cat and dog allergies, substances in a horse’s saliva and skin cells can trigger an immune system response in some people. The results can be sneezing, asthma, and even severe allergic reactions.
Exposure to horses can cause horse allergies — but how this exposure occurs isn’t so simple. People are most commonly allergic to the horse’s serum albumin. This is a protein naturally found in the horse’s blood that’s also present in their skin cells, or dander.
Horse saliva can also contain significant concentrations of this protein.
When a person is exposed to horse albumin, it can trigger the immune system to create antibodies known as IgE antibodies. These antibodies trigger an allergic response that can cause symptoms associated with horse allergies, including sneezing and coughing.
Researchers have associated with animal albumins. This means if you’re allergic to cats or dogs, there’s a chance you may be allergic to horses, too. While the albumin protein structures aren’t exactly the same, they’re similar.
The more you’re around horses, the more likely you are to have horse allergies. People who work with horses professionally or personally, as well as those who come in contact with horses through riding clothes are more likely to have horse allergy symptoms.
Even walking through an empty stable with no horses present can cause reactions in some people.
Horse allergy symptoms may occur immediately after you’re around a horse or you can have a delayed response because horse dander can linger on your clothing long after you’ve left a stable. If someone in your home rides or is around horses, you may also have symptoms.
Some of the horse allergy symptoms include:
- itchy, watery eyes
- runny nose
- stuffy nose
You can also experience asthma symptoms. These include a tightness in your chest, problems breathing, and wheezing.
One of the most concerning aspects of having a horse allergy is that people are more likely to present with anaphylaxis, according to the . This is a severe allergic reaction that can affect your ability to breathe.
Allergies to other animals such as cats and dogs aren’t as likely to cause anaphylaxis as horse allergies can. Fortunately, anaphylactic reactions to horse exposure are rare.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Symptoms include:
- low blood pressure
- swollen throat and tongue
- weak, fast pulse
You should seek emergency medical attention if you are having an anaphylactic reaction to horse exposure.
The most effective treatment for horse allergies is to avoid horses, stables, and being around clothing or other items that may have come in contact with horses. However, this isn’t always possible, especially if you work with horses for a living. Treatments include:
- Immunotherapy. Also known as allergy shots, this treatment involves exposing you to small doses of horse allergens to allow your body to adjust. Over time, the dose is increased until your body is less likely to react when you’re around a horse.
- Antihistamines. These medications block the effects of the substances that cause allergic reactions. However, they don’t treat your allergy, only its symptoms.
- Inhalers. If you have asthma-type reactions to horses, you may need an inhaler. This is medication that you breathe in to help open up your airways and reduce wheezing.
- EpiPen: People who have anaphylactic reactions to horses may need to carry an epinephrine pen or EpiPen. These are syringes of the medication epinephrine that’s injected into the thigh if you’re exposed to horse dander. EpiPens can be life-saving for those with severe allergic reactions.
If you still need (or want) to be around horses and you’re allergic to them, try these tips to minimize your reaction:
- Avoid hugging or kissing horses.
- When possible, have another person groom your horse. If you must groom it, do so outside as doing so in a stable makes horse dander more likely to stick to you. You can also wear a dust mask while grooming to avoid inhaling horse dander.
- Change your clothes and wash your hair immediately after being exposed to a horse. Place your clothes in a bag and put them in a washing machine immediately after riding or petting a horse.
- Take antihistamines before you go riding to reduce the likelihood of a reaction. You can also take decongestants, which help to reduce a stuffy nose.
Don’t forget to always keep your medications with you if there’s a chance you could be around a horse. This includes an inhaler or EpiPen.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a horse allergy. You may think it’s more of a reaction to pollen from the outdoors. However, if you have had an anaphylactic reaction after horse exposure or continue to have asthma symptoms after being around horses, talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist. This doctor can test you for allergies, including those for horses.
Horse allergies are definitely a thing. If you sneeze, sniffle, or have problems breathing every time you’re around horses, you’re probably allergic. Talk to your doctor about possible treatments, such as allergy shots. Happy (and careful) riding!