‘Tis the Season to be Sneeze’n: Except for Animals, Right?
A glorious summer is with us already, and so soon. We’ve barely dipped our toes into December and already we’ve enjoyed at least two weeks of jandal and sunscreen weather. And even today’s cloudy coolness hasn’t spoilt the summer mood. But there is something that spoils the summer mood, at least for some of us. Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis to use the correct terminology).
Rhinitis means “irritation of the nose” and is a derivative of rhino, meaning nose.
As I rub my itchy eyes and watch the sheep dip their noses deep into the seeding grass, I wonder – why aren’t the sheep sneezing? Or any of my other pets either? They all seem immune to hay fever. I guess it’s just people that are affected by the spring and summer pollen and grass seeds, right?
Nope, not true. Any animal can suffer from hay fever. The difference between people getting hay fever and other animals getting hay fever is in the symptoms. People sneeze, get red, itchy eyes, runny noses and complain a lot about it. Other animals get itchy skin, causing them to scratch and nibble, often to the point of hair loss.
What is this pollen stuff that we’re allergic to?
Pollen consists of the tiny, male cells of flowering plants. Garden flower pollen is large and waxy so typically doesn’t cause allergies, but the small, light, dry pollens produced by trees, grasses, and weeds float on the wind and up our noses leading to allergic reactions.
What is happening when we get hay fever?
Hay fever, being an allergic reaction to airborne particles, occurs when the immune system attacks the allergen suspecting it to be a threat to the body, whereas in fact it is harmless. To fight the invaders, the immune systems summons up immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. When the immune system attacks, it is indiscriminate and kills not only the allergens, but innocent, healthy cells as well. One of those cell types is the mast cell, of whose function is not yet known, but what is known is that when these mast cells are destroyed, they release a number of chemicals including histamines. It is these histamines that cause the allergy symptoms.
Why does hay fever affect animals differently from us?
Mast cells are located all over the body. In people, there are large numbers in the respiratory system, hence the sneezy symptoms. In other animals, dogs and cats in particular, there are large numbers of mast cells in the skin, triggering their itchy skin symptoms. People get itchy skin and animals get runny noses too, but not to the same degree.
So there we have it. Humans are not the only animals who suffer from hay fever. At least, in the midst of my runny nose and itchy eye state, I can console myself that things could be worse. I could be allergic to animals – now that would make for a miserable life.
And I really recommend having a look at this next one. Incredible photos of pollen particles magnified. They look like sea coral.