What Is Bird Allergy?

  • Fatima Azam Master's degree, Biotechnology, The University of Salford, UK


Definition of bird allergy

Bird allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to proteins in bird products like feathers and dander, resulting in IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies and histamine production, causing symptoms like itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. Understanding avian allergies is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.

Prevalence and impact

Bird allergies are a prevalent disease affecting people of all ages, causing physical distress  and lowered quality of life. They can also lead to  negative psychological effects like social isolation and anxiety. Understanding their frequency and consequences is crucial for efficient diagnosis, management, and public awareness campaigns to reduce these negative effects on affected individuals and communities.

Purpose of understanding bird allergy

Understanding bird allergies is crucial for medical personnel to accurately identify and treat affected individuals, improving their quality of life and reducing the risk of life-threatening reactions. Increased public awareness leads to better prevention, such as thorough bird care and hygiene, and the development of novel treatments. Awareness also helps those with allergies feel empathy and support, reducing emotional and social difficulties.

Understanding bird allergens

Types of bird allergens


Feathers, composed primarily of keratin protein, protect birds' bodies by insulating them. However, feather allergens, such as tiny fragments or dust, can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, such as sneezing, itching, and respiratory discomfort.


Bird dander is composed of microscopic skin flakes and proteins from birds' skin oil and saliva.  Exposure to it via inhalation or direct touch can cause allergic symptoms like sneezing, coughing, congestion, skin rashes, and eye discomfort. This common allergen is especially prevalent in indoor environments with pet birds.


Bird droppings, waste particles produced by birds, can contain allergens and bacteria. These particles can dry out and behave like dust, spreading into the air. Inhalation or contact with infected surfaces can cause allergic reactions. Bird droppings can harbour respiratory irritants and infections, potentially leading to respiratory issues, skin rashes, and eye discomfort. Cleaning and maintenance are crucial to reduce allergen exposure.

How bird allergens trigger allergic reactions


Bird allergens, such as feather dust or dander, can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals when they are inhaled. The immune system recognises these chemicals as foreign invaders, releasing antibodies like IgE (immunoglobulin E) and histamines. This reaction results in classic allergic symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, and even asthma in some cases.


Bird allergens can cause allergic reactions in individuals who come into direct contact with birds, handle contaminated feathers or bedding materials or touch bird-dropping-collected surfaces. Skin reactions include itching, redness, and hives, while eyes may experience redness, irritation, watering, and conjunctivitis.

Cross-reactivity with other allergens

In Immunology, cross-reactivity

Cross-reactivity is an immunological phenomenon where the immune system reacts to similar allergens. Bird allergies may cause reactions in those who are already hypersensitive to other allergens, as exposure to bird allergens may trigger reactions from other sources. This can complicate diagnosis and treatment, as it can cause a wider range of allergic symptoms and require extensive allergen testing.

Allergen sensitisation

Cross-reactivity occurs when the immune system produces antibodies against similar proteins from different allergenic sources, such as bird feathers. This can lead to allergic reactions in those exposed to cross-reactive allergens. Understanding cross-reactivity is crucial for healthcare professionals in diagnosing and managing allergies, as it influences treatment options and allergen avoidance tactics.

Symptoms of bird allergy

Respiratory symptoms


Bird allergies often cause sneezing, a common respiratory symptom. The immune system's reaction to allergens like feather dust or dander causes nasal passage discomfort and leads the body to release air forcefully through the nose, resulting in sneezing as a defence mechanism to eliminate allergens.


Bird allergies often cause nasal congestion, a common respiratory symptom. This occurs when blood vessels in the nasal passages become irritated and enlarged, constricting the airways, making breathing harder, and causing a stuffy or congested feeling.


Bird allergy can cause wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing, due to inflammation and constriction of the airways. This condition is more common in individuals with ongoing respiratory issues like asthma.

Skin symptoms


Itching is a common skin symptom of bird allergies, triggered by immunological reactions when allergens make contact the skin. This symptom is particularly painful when handling birds or contaminated objects like feathers or droppings.


Hives, also known as urticaria, are raised, red, and irritating skin welts caused by allergic reactions to bird allergens. They usually arise unexpectedly and vary in size and appearance, indicating the immune system's production of histamines.

Eye symptoms


Bird allergies often cause conjunctival injection, or redness of the eyes, due to inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane covering the white eye area, resulting in a bloodshot appearance.


Bird allergies can cause watery eyes or excessive crying, often linked to eye irritation and redness. As a protective response, tear production increases, resulting in a continuous watery flow.

Anaphylaxis (Severe allergic reaction)

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to birds, often fatal, characterized by a rapid immune response. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, throat and tongue swelling, blood pressure drop, rapid heartbeat, and loss of consciousness. Immediate medical attention and treatment with epinephrine are necessary to counteract this severe reaction. Individuals with known bird allergies should be aware of anaphylaxis symptoms and carry an epinephrine auto-injector for emergency use.

Diagnosing bird allergy

Medical history and symptom assessment

Healthcare specialists use a comprehensive medical history to diagnose bird allergies, examining the patient's symptoms, potential bird exposure, and patterns that may indicate a bird allergy. This detailed history helps identify potential triggers and patterns that may be present in the patient's condition. Diagnosis of avian allergies involves assessing the patient's individual symptoms, including severity, frequency, respiratory, skin, and ocular symptoms, to differentiate them from other similar illnesses.

Allergy testing

Skin prick test

Skin prick tests, also known as puncture or scratch tests, are used to diagnose avian allergies. A small amount of bird allergen extract is applied to the skin, usually in the forearm or back. The skin's surface is then pricked with a small needle or lancet. If allergic, the patient may experience a localised allergic reaction, such as a raised, itchy bump or wheal.

Blood test (IgE levels)

Blood testing, specifically measuring IgE (immunoglobulin E) levels, can aid in diagnosing bird allergies by indicating sensitisation to bird proteins. Elevated IgE levels are particularly useful for individuals unable to undergo skin prick tests due to skin issues, drugs, and other factors.

Differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis is a crucial medical technique aimed atidentifying multiple medical disorders or diseases with similar symptoms. It involves analysing a patient's medical history, physical examination, laboratory testing, imaging, and consultation with specialists. This method helps healthcare providers to identify the underlying condition, ensuring the patient receives the most appropriate treatment.

Managing bird allergy

Avoidance strategies

Removing birds from the home

Pet bird removal is a crucial measure for allergic individuals, particularly those with severe forms thereof, as it minimises exposure to avian allergens.

Proper bird care and hygiene

Bird owners should practice proper bird care and hygiene, including regular cleaning of cages, toys, and living areas, as well as frequent bathing and grooming to prevent allergies.

Creating allergen-free zones

To minimise bird allergen exposure, individuals can create allergen-free zones in their homes, use HEPA-filtered air purifiers, and close crevices or gaps to further limit allergen infiltration.



Antihistamines are commonly used to treat symptoms like sneezing, itching, and  runny nose by inhibiting the effects of histamine, a substance produced during an allergic reaction, and are available in oral tablets and nasal sprays.


Decongestants are medications used to relieve nasal congestion and improve breathing by constricting blood vessels in the nasal passages; available in tablets, sprays, or drops, with cautious use to reduce rebound congestion.


Corticosteroids are commonly used in nasal sprays or inhalers to regulate airway inflammation and relieve allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and itching. Although effective, they may require prescriptions in some cases.

Immunotherapy (Allergy shots)

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a long-term treatment for bird allergies. It involves delivering increasing amounts of avian allergens over time to desensitise the immune system and minimise allergic reactions. Recommended for severe allergies or those without relief from previous treatments, it requires a series of injections throughout several years to grant maximum effectiveness. 

Living with a bird allergy

Coping strategies

Emotional support

Bird allergy can be emotionally challenging, especially if it causes lifestyle restrictions or fear of reactions. Emotional assistance from friends, family, or support groups can help individuals voice concerns and develop emotional resilience.

Importance of allergen awareness in public spaces

Raising allergy awareness inworkplaces, schools and public transportation is critical for the well-being of people who are allergic to birds. This awareness emphasises the significance of implementing allergy management measures in shared spaces, such as optimal ventilation and cleaning practices. It also aids to accomodateg those with allergies, ensuring they have a safe and allergen-free environment while entering public spaces. Promoting allergen knowledge aids in the prevention of allergic reactions and promotes the inclusion of people with allergies in all parts of community life.


Recap of bird allergy

Bird allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to specific bird allergens, causing various allergic symptoms. It is triggered by inhalation and contact with bird allergens, causing respiratory, skin, and eye issues.

Emphasis on allergen management

Bird allergy care is crucial for improving quality of life, involving allergen avoidance, proper bird care, medication administration, and immunotherapy. Managing allergens in public places ensures safe and inclusive environments for those allergic to birds.

The future outlook for bird allergy research and treatment

Future bird allergy research aims to enhance diagnostic techniques, develop novel therapies, and understand cross-reactivity with other allergens, thereby providing better treatments and support for bird allergy sufferers.


What is a bird allergy?

A bird allergy is an allergic reaction that arises when a person's immune system reacts inappropriately to proteins found in bird feathers, hair, saliva, or droppings. This allergic reaction can result in a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

What are the common symptoms of a bird allergy?

The most common signs of a bird allergy include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny or itchy nose, itchy or watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, skin rashes, and, in more severe cases, breathing difficulties or asthma episodes. The presence of allergenic avian proteins causes these symptoms to manifest.

Which birds are most commonly associated with bird allergies?

While any bird may cause an allergic reaction in some people, certain species are more frequently linked to bird allergies because of the increased levels of allergenic proteins they generate. It is frequently reported that pigeons, parrots, canaries, and cockatiels are the main offenders.

Can bird allergies be severe or life-threatening?

Bird allergies can cause severe reactions in rare circumstances, including anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis symptoms include difficulty breathing, a reduction in blood pressure, throat swelling, and loss of consciousness. If you have severe allergic symptoms, you must seek immediate medical assistance.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Fatima Azam

Master's degree, Biotechnology, The University of Salford

I'm Fatima, a passionate and dedicated medical writer driven by a Master's in Biotechnology from the University of Salford. My expertise includes:
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