More than 15 million pet birds live in 5 million U.S. homes, according to BirdSupplies.com. Pet birds range in size from tiny finches to the largest members of the parrot family. Perhaps surprisingly, birds, like many other pets, can cause allergic reactions in their owners and other household members.
The World Parrot Trust describes African greys as intelligent but sensitive parrots that require plenty of attention from their owners. African greys, as the name suggests, appear predominantly gray (the parrot’s name uses the British spelling for the color) with black bills and red tails. They can mimic words and noises exceptionally well, a talent that makes them a popular pet choice. Anyone considering purchasing an African grey parrot for its talking ability should know, however, that not all greys learn to talk. An African grey is also a lifelong commitment: The World Parrot Trust reports that greys can live 50 to 60 years.
All parrots produce feather dust as small pieces of feathers break off and become airborne, writes Carol Highfill at BirdsNWays.com. "Powder down" birds--such as African greys, cockatoos and cockatiels--also have small feathers that produce a fine, waxy powder, which keeps their feathers waterproof. When African greys groom or flap their wings, the feather dust becomes airborne.
A bird owner may develop African grey allergies soon after exposure to feather dander, while others live with their parrot for years before developing symptoms. BirdSupplies.com reports that feather dust allergy symptoms include coughing, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose and watery or itchy eyes. Feather dust can spread throughout a house, especially in homes with central heating or air conditioning.
African grey allergies can develop into a serious condition called allergic alveolitis, which occurs in acute and chronic varieties, veterinarian Linda Pesek reports at BirdsnWays.com. Acute allergic alveolitis causes difficulty breathing, coughing, chills and fever, but symptoms disappear if you avoid feather dust and airborne fecal matter from birds. Chronic allergic alveolitis, however, affects lung capacity and makes breathing progressively difficult, resulting in permanent lung damage.
The best treatment for African grey allergies is to find a new home for the parrot, but many bird owners cannot bring themselves to give up their pets. Highfill says using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can reduce feather dust and powder; some people run HEPA air filters continuously near their parrot’s cage. You can also shower or spray your bird with a fine mist of water to reduce feather powder, and have someone who doesn’t suffer from African grey allergies clean the bird's cage and the HEPA filter. These strategies won't entirely eliminate African grey allergies, but may reduce symptoms enough that parrot owners can continue to live with their birds.