If you believe you are allergic to cats, congratulations you are within a tiny portion of the population. In the USA, only 10% think they're allergic to pets, and cats are responsible for only about 6% of those beliefs. Outside of the USA, the number of people who believe that they have pet allergies is reduced to less than 1%.
However, contrary to the popular belief that people are allergic to their pets, it is quite simply impossible to be allergic to the pet itself. It is not the cat who is responsible for the allergic reaction, but the individual's immune system.
Oversensitive Immune System
Individuals who have reactions to cats, actually have what is called an oversensitive immune system, which causes a response to various triggers, usually proteins. These triggers may be any of the many bacteria or virus that they contact. The symptoms are nothing more than the side effects of how the body reacts to an assault on the tiny protein allergens common in the environment.
How do these tiny proteins cause such an allergic reaction in the body? Those who suffer from an oversensitive immune system, mistake harmless plant proteins for dangerous invaders and attack them as they would a bacteria or virus. The symptoms of the allergy are the side effects of your body's assault on the allergen, or trigger.
In the instance of cats, it is not the cat or the cat's fur or hair that causes the reaction, but a symptom of coming into contact with the proteins in the cat's diet, which affects their saliva, urine, or dander, which is the dried flakes of skin. Keep in mind that in most instances, it is the pollen, mold or other allergens that are brought in from plants in the garden if the cat is allowed outside.
A person suffering from an oversensitive immune system can suffer from allergic reactions if the pollen, molds, or other allergens from these plants if they spend any time around plants themselves and never come into contact with a cat. And, they will suffer from the same reactions if they come into contact with a person who has spent time around the plants, such as a gardener.
And, yes, those individuals suffering from an oversensitive immune system can react to other people in the same way that they react to plants, cats and dog. An individual who has high levels of proteins can cause another person to respond to their protein.
What Are the Symptoms of Allergies?
Symptoms of allergies can include:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Hives or a rash on the chest or face
- Redness of skin where the initial contact occurred
- Red, itchy eyes
- Runny, itchy, or stuffy nose
Symptoms of an allergy might develop in just a few minutes or take hours to appear. About 20% to 30% of people with allergic asthma have severe flare-ups after coming in contact with allergens.
How Do I Know if I Have an Allergy?
Although the symptoms of an allergy may seem fairly obvious, the cause of the allergy may not be as easy to confirm. It's not always the cat that causes them.
Your doctor can do a skin or blood test to see if you're allergic. A simple analysis is a grid pattern, and a different allergen drop placed inside each of the grids. Some areas will show a reaction within minutes, while others may take a day or two to show up.
However, allergy tests are often inconclusive, and additional testing may be required for the doctor to confirm any possible allergies.
How Are Allergies Treated?
Allergies can usually be controlled with conventional allergy drugs. Your doctor might recommend:
- Antihistamines, which are available over-the-counter -- like cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fexofenadine ( Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin); or some antihistamines such as azelastine (Astelin) come in a nasal spray
- Decongestants, like over-the-counter pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or allergy drugs that contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine such as Allegra-D, Claritin-D, or Zyrtec-DNasal steroid sprays, which affect allergy or asthma symptoms in various ways; steroid sprays are a conventional treatment for allergies. Budesonide (Rhinocort), fluticasone (Flonase), and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR) are steroid sprays that are available over the counter.
- Allergy shots are another option. Allergy shots are not always effective, and completing treatment can take years. They're also not used for children under age 5. But they can be of help to some people. Ask your doctor if they make sense for you.
Unfortunately, there's no way to prevent an allergy. Some studies have shown that exposure to the allergens as a young child seems to reduce the risk of developing allergies later. On the other hand, a child who already has allergic tendencies may get worse with exposure to the allergens.
Alternatives to Medical Treatment for Allergies
So, what do you do if you are opposed to taking medicine for your allergies? While medical treatment can help control allergies, the best approach is to avoid the allergens that create the reaction. While this may seem simple at first, it can prove almost impossible to go through life without coming into contact with allergens.
You may assume that the best solution is to avoid the causes of your allergies. But, be aware that once you start avoiding your allergies, you may only incur many other problems.
You may find yourself giving up having a garden, visits to the botanical garden, a trip to the zoo, or exploring the outdoors, hiking or camping. You may find your friendships limited to only those who never come into contact with allergens. You will find your life filled with things that cause your immune system flare-ups and never be able to lead a fulfilled life.
Holding onto the Belief That You Are Allergic to Cats
Assuming that you believe that you are allergic only to the proteins of cat dander. Here are some tips on how to deal with cats in your life.
- Don't touch, hug, or kiss cats. Some people think a little cat contact is OK. It isn't.
- Beware of visitors who own cats. Even if your house guests leave their cats at home, they can bring the dander with them on their clothing and luggage. This indirect exposure can cause severe cat allergy symptoms in some people.
- Plan. If you have to visit a house with cats, ask that the cat be kept out of the room in which you be for a few weeks before you arrive. Also, start taking allergy medication a few weeks beforehand. Once an allergic reaction gets started, it can be tough to control. But taking medicine can prevent it from happening in the first place.
But what if you already own a cat? Here's the most sensible advice: if you or a family member have protein allergies, you shouldn't have a cat in the home.
Of course, such harsh advice may not be easy to follow. What if your kids have already fallen in love with a kitten? What if your kid will never, ever part with her cat? If the cat has to stay, there are other things you can try.
- Keep your distance. Limit exposure to the cat. Indeed, another family member should take responsibility for the cat's care and do things like cleaning the litter box.
- Restrict the cat to specific sections of the house. Don't allow your cat to roam free. Keep the cat out of your bedroom at all times.
- Keep the cat outdoors as much as possible. That's how some people get around their cat allergies. However, make sure your cat is safe outside. If you have other animals like raccoons or opossums in the area, be aware that may consider your cat as a meal for them. Also, if you are going to allow your cat to roam outdoors, you should consider spaying or neutering the cat.
- Clean rigorously and often. Cat dander gets everywhere. So you need to sweep and mop the floors, vacuum the rugs, and clean furniture regularly. Make sure to get a vacuum with a HEPA filter, because regular filters may not be fine enough to catch allergens. Get rid of carpets and drapes that can trap dander.
- Clear the air. A central air cleaner -- as well as filters on the vents themselves -- can help prevent cat dander from circulating through the house.
- Consider bathing your cat regularly. Experts aren't sure if bathing helps reduce the amount of allergen. But if it doesn't traumatize the cat too severely, you could try it and see if it reduces symptoms.
While these techniques might help, they may not be enough. As hard as it might be, if the cat's exposure to allergens is putting your health -- or a family member's health -- at risk, you have to consider giving up the pet.
That is a lot of work to go through when there are more straightforward methods to reduce your allergen flareups.
The bottom line is that is it impossible to be allergic to cats, but your oversensitive immune system that creates the reactions.
Whatever you do, don't assume that you can wait it out, that allergies will naturally get better over time. They might very well get worse. Out-of-control allergies can make life miserable. The risk of asthma and other serious diseases may increase.
So don't ignore the signs of allergies. Instead, see a doctor. Together, you can figure out the best way to tackle the problem, allowing you to live a better and more fulfilled life.