Allergy to Horses

Some people are allergic to horses (for the alternative topic of horses which are allergic, see Horse Allergy). Depending on the type of allergy, this can result in various symptoms: 

  • Itchy eyes, nose or skin
  • Hives or rashes
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Asthma attacks

When first being exposed to horses, one should carefully check if one has an allergic reaction. Special care should be taken with anyone who suffers from asthma as a horse allergy can trigger a asthmatic attack, which in the most severe cases have been fatal. Consequently, if one has an asthma problem, one should take precautions when first exposed to horses (including having an inhaler and other asthma treatments to hand) and one should monitor asthmatic children when first exposed to horses.

The most common cause of allergies to horses is their dander. Dander is bits of skin which has flaked off (like dandruff) and bits of hair. Another common cause is horse mites (or rather, their droppings). One can also be allergic to horse salvia or urine.

It is possible to have an allergic reaction without being near a horse, through indirect contact. For example, dander and mite droppings can be rubbed off onto tack and clothing (in particular, they adhere to rugs, blankets and clothing), so contact with these items can trigger a horse allergy. There are a number of cases where one family member rides horses, resulting in another family member having allergic reactions or asthma due to exposure to clothing or equipment which is brought back home by the horse rider. In such cases, one should take appropriate preventive steps (e.g. have the rider change clothing before coming home, wipe down tack before bringing it into the house, etc.). Likewise, entering a barn or other enclosed area where horses have recently been can result in a reaction even if the horses are not present at the moment.

Treatment

Horse allergies can be treated in the same way as other allergies: avoidance if possible, otherwise medications such anti-histamines or corticosteroids, or desensitizing treatment. The various treatment options should be discussed with your doctor. 

If one cannot easily avoid being around horses, one may wish to be tested to determine which aspect of the horse one is allergic too, as this will help in determining how to best manage the allergic condition:

  • In the case of the allergy being caused by dander (rather than other aspects of the horse), many people report that the curly horse breeds do not cause a reaction, so they are able to ride these breeds. 
  • In the case that one is allergic to horse mites, treatment of the horse and its box against mites may reduce the allergic reaction to acceptable levels.
  • In the case of allergy to urine, avoiding contaminated areas (e.g. the horse's box) and washing the horse down (in case it has rolled in its box) may allow one to continue to be around horses without suffering from the associated allergy.
  • In any case, knowing the exact cause of the horse allergy may allow one to minimise exposure to this particular aspect and thereby continue to be around horses.