An Overview of Cat Allergies

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Allergies to cats are fairly common, affecting up to 25 percent of people who also have other types of allergies. A cat allergy can cause symptoms such as red eyes and sneezing. These allergies can be triggered by direct exposure to cats or by indirect exposure through fabric or air.

You may notice a cat allergy based on the timing of your symptoms. Sometimes, getting medical anti-allergy treatment can help. But avoiding the cat may be necessary.

Symptoms

You can experience symptoms of a cat allergy right when you enter into a room or home where a cat lives. Or the effects can begin after you spend several hours in the area or with the cat.

A cat allergy can produce upper respiratory symptoms or may affect your skin.

Common effects f a cat allergy can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • A skin rash, redness, or itching
  • Wheezing

Many people who have asthma can develop an asthma attack triggered by cat exposure.

Complications

While it is rare, swelling of the face, throat, or any part of the body can develop due to a cat allergy. If you develop swelling or become short of breath, seek medical attention immediately.

Cat Interactions

Cat allergies are more common than dog allergies, but this does not have anything to do with how friendly the cat or the person is.

Cat allergies are not associated with how much you like a cat or how much the cat likes you. Getting along with your cat or a friend's cat is a completely different issue than having an allergy.

You can develop a psychological aversion to being around a cat if you tend to have allergic symptoms after your cat encounters.

Causes

You don't need to have close contact with a cat to develop allergic symptoms. Some people can have the effects of a cat allergy after coming into contact with fabric, such as a blanket or clothing, that was touched by a cat. And you may even develop symptoms from breathing air in an area where a cat lives.

Cat allergies are triggered by cat hair, skin, saliva, sweat, urine, blood, and dander. Cat dander is a tiny material shed by cats. The dander is airborne and sticky. The size of the cat dander particles is extremely small and it is inhaled deep into the lungs.

Dander can be present in public places, even where there are no cats—because it can be carried on the clothing of people who have cats and then shed in public places.

Cat dander is a common cause of allergic asthma, and cat owners who are allergic to cats are more prone to the development of asthma symptoms.

Allergens

Allergens are harmless substances that trigger an allergic reaction. Several proteins that are produced by cats, including Fel d 1, Fel d 4, and albumin have been identified as cat allergens. These allergens trigger a rapid immune reaction mediated by an antibody called IgE. The IgE antibody rapidly activates an inflammatory response that produces the symptoms of a cat allergy.

Cat allergens are produced in large amounts and are very potent. Cat allergens are partially under hormonal control. They are particularly prominent in male non-neutered cats.

Cats generally are not bathed, and they use their own saliva to groom and clean themselves. This can spread the allergen if it is present in the cat's saliva.

Infections Caused by Cats

Allergies are a manifestation of the immune system's over-reaction to a non-infectious substance. But you can also get an infection due to cat exposure, such as ringworm, or an infection due to a cat scratch.

A parasitic infection caused byToxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is spread by cat feces. This parasite is very dangerous for pregnant women because it can cause birth defects.

Infections caused by cats are different than allergies.

Diagnosis

You may be able to tell that you have a cat allergy based on the timing of your symptoms. If you start to cough, sneeze, feel itchy, or develop a rash right after visiting your friend who has a cat, then you might have an allergy to the cat.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know that a cat allergy is causing your symptoms, especially if you live with the cat. While some people are allergic to all cats, you might be allergic to a cat even if you have not had allergies to other cats in the past—this can make the effects hard to figure out.

You may also have a hidden exposure to cat allergens, such as when moving to a new home where a cat used to live.

While it is not common, you could have an allergy to cat food or to material in the cat's littler box, rather than an allergy to the cat. Keep this in mind when you are observing your reactions and when you get tested.

Medical Evaluation

If you have a rash or persistent upper respiratory symptoms, you should see your doctor. After a history and physical examination, your doctor may do some diagnostic tests. Blood tests can include an IgE level to see if you have an allergic reaction.

Skin Prick Test

You may be advised to have a skin prick test. This would involve your doctor placing a small amount of the cat hair or skin on your skin with a needle. You would then be observed for about half an hour to see if you develop a reaction.

Treatment

For people with a cat allergy, avoidance of cats is the mainstay of therapy. However, cat owners may not want to part with their pets, despite the symptoms they endure.

Allergy medications may control symptoms, but in many instances, symptoms may persist if the person lives with one or more indoor cats. Allergy shots may also be a treatment option for people who are allergic to their own pet cats.

There are some ways to decrease cat allergen exposure for cat owners:

  • Ensure the cat is neutered
  • Bath the cat at least once or twice a week
  • Wipe the cat with a wet cloth or hand towel daily
  • Keep the cat away from the bedroom and the bedroom door
  • Keep the cats away from air vents to the bedroom
  • Have cats stay outside, in the garage, or in a part of the home with an uncarpeted floor
  • Vacuum frequently with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) equipped vacuum cleaner
  • Use a HEPA room air cleaner for use in the bedroom and/or other parts of the home (it is best to keep the HEPA filter off of the floor to avoid stirring up more dust)
  • Follow house dust mite avoidance precautions

If the above measures do not help to reduce allergic symptoms, you may need to remove your pet cats from your home. This is especially important if you or someone in your home has uncontrolled asthma.

Cat dander will persist for months in the home even if the cat is gone – therefore it is important to clean thoroughly.

  • Steam clean all carpets and upholstered furniture
  • Launder or dry clean all bedding and curtains
  • Vacuum all hard floors
  • Wipe down all hard surfaces and furniture
  • Replace any air conditioner and heater vent filters

A Word From Verywell

You may be disappointed to discover that you have a cat allergy. Parting with a beloved cat can be sad. There have been some suggestions that hypoallergenic cats may be available, but this concept has not been proven. Some experts have suggested vaccinating cats tor feeding them a certain diet to reduce allergic reactions in owners. These are new strategies that are not widely used.

Keep in mind that even if you are allergic to one cat, you might not be allergic to all of them. And many other pets might not trigger an allergy for you—such as dogs, bunnies, birds, and fish.

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Article Sources

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