It’s likely you have a friend or family member that sneezes and rubs their eyes when they visit your home. Cat allergies are pretty common and can make the person with the allergy quite uncomfortable when they are exposed to cats or even an object that has been in a cat’s home. It’s estimated that 10% of the population of the United States is allergic to cats or another pet. To make life easier for your loved ones that suffer from cat allergies, understanding cat allergies can help.
What are Cat Allergies?
Cat allergies are among the most common allergies. Twice as many people are allergic to cats than to dogs. Why do more people seem to have a sensitivity to cats? This is because cat dander is the smallest form of dander, so it remains in the air for half an hour after being ‘stirred up.’ This means less relief and greater exposure to the allergen.
Most people discover they have cat allergies after snuggling or playing with a cat. They begin wheezing, sneezing, and their eyes and nose water. Cat allergies can even affect someone if they’re exposed to dander on another person’s clothing or in the air.
When someone is allergic to cats, they have a reaction to the proteins present on a cat’s skin, and in their saliva and urine. These tiny specks of protein are inhaled or land on the skin, and the allergic person’s body springs into action and overreaction. An overreactive immune system confuses the harmless cat dander for a harmful bacteria or virus. This results in the body desperately trying to free itself from the ‘invader’ through sneezing and other symptoms.
While a person with a cat allergy doesn’t make for the best feline parent, there are cats that are hypoallergenic. Not all cats produce the allergen protein, and some produce less than others. This all depends on the length of the cat’s coat, its gender, amount of shedding, and its indoor/outdoor habits.
Cat Allergy Symptoms
A person’s allergy to cats can range in severity. One person may have a mild or slight reaction while another may have a more extreme or severe reaction. The same is true for how quickly a person exhibits symptoms after being around a cat—this can range from minutes to hours.
Common symptoms of cat allergies include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy nose and eyes
- Red and watery eyes
- Rash or hives on face or chest
- Redness or irritation where a cat bit, licked, or scratched the person
- Congestion causing facial pain
Diagnosing Cat Allergies
How can you find out if you have a cat allergy? An allergist or doctor can diagnose you. They will perform a blood or skin test to determine if you are, in fact, allergic to cats.
A skin-prick test is often used for diagnosis. This test involves a tiny pin-prick with a minuscule amount of cat allergen on your skin. The allergen soaks into and under your skin then your doctor or allergist monitors the area for signs of a reaction. If redness, swelling appear, or other symptoms occur, they will likely conclude that you are allergic to cats.
Treatment and Management of Cat Allergies
While there is no cure for cat allergies, there are many ways to reduce the effects or reaction to cats. The only way to truly prevent a reaction is to avoid being around cats, but that can be nearly impossible.
To manage and reduce allergy symptoms if only exposed to a cat for a short period of time:
- Use an over-the-counter antihistamine with cetirizine, diphenhydramine, fexofenadine, and loratadine.
- Use an over-the-counter decongestant with pseudoephedrine or steroid nasal spray.
How to manage allergies if you live with a cat:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after petting or playing with the cat.
- Use a HEPA air filter or cleaner to reduce dander in the air.
- Vacuum regularly with a highly-efficient vacuum cleaner with a filter.
- Bathe the household cat once per week.
- Keep the cat outdoors or restrict it to a certain room of the house.
Some people choose to receive allergy shots. They help a person build up a resistant to the allergen over time. These are effective for some people but not all, and cannot be used if the patient is under 5 years old.
There is no cure for cat allergies. If you find you have cat allergies, your best bet is to try to manage the symptoms and avoid being around cats. You can also try to find a hypoallergenic cat to love and care for.
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